Ryerson's Legacy: Truth and Reconcilation

 Ryerson’s Legacy: Truth and Reconciliation

On July 18th dozens of protesters in downtown Toronto called for an end to Canada’s glorification of racist policymakers from the past. The protest centered around a symbolic act: dousing Ryerson University’s statue of its founder in red paint, to represent blood shed by Canada’s Indigenous residential schools. Prior to the July 18th protest, Ryerson University students had been petitioning for the removal of Ryerson’s statue for over 5 years, arguing that it celebrates a man whose policies killed thousands. 

Credit: Ted Fraser, Toronto Star

Established in 1948, Ryerson University was named after Egerton Ryerson, a theorist and educator who is considered by many historians to be a key architect in shaping Canada’s educational systems. However, the most prolific educational system Ryerson was contracted to develop was the Canadian Indian residential school system: a Catholic and Anglican clergy-led, abusive institution that stole thousands of Indigenous children from their families, and whose primary goal was to “kill the Indian in the child” in order to assimilate them into a colonial settler society.  

Credit: United Church Archives, Toronto.

When asked about his primary goals for Canada’s residential schools, Ryserson once stated, “I think that the great object of industrial schools should be to fit the [uncivilized] pupils for becoming working farmers and agricultural labourers, fortified of course by Christian principles, feelings, and habits”. Ryerson’s vision of a hyper-religious school system designed to erase Indigenous languages and cultures became reality; and by 1931, 80 residential schools were in operation. As decades passed, reports from Indigenous children forced to attend the schools surfaced, describing horrors buried beneath Ryerson’s promise of “civilizing” subsequent Indigenous generations. Tens of thousands of children were severely abused by priests, several thousand went missing, and many of the latter were later discovered buried within mass graves. Canada’s last residential school was closed in 1996, but the traumatizing effects of forcibly eradicating cultural norms and sacred knowledge for over 170 years still prominently resonate within Indigenous communities today.  

Credit: Sean Kilpatrick, CBC News 2015

Although Prime Minister Stephan Harper apologized in 2008 for the harm residential schools wreaked upon already vulnerable communities for generations, Indigenous elders argue that little else has been done to offer long-term support to Indigenous communities and survivors who were cut away from their ancestors’ histories and cultures. The Truth and Reconconcilation Commission, founded 9 days prior to Harper’s apology, interviewed over 7000 survivors of residential schools, only to come to a unanimous conclusion in 2015: the schools perpetrated cultural genocide. 

Credit: Unknown

At the Toronto July 18th protest against Ryerson’s tribute statue, three protesters were arrested during the peaceful gathering. Protestors gathered at the Toronto Police’s 52 Division to demand their release, which was granted after a 5 hour wait and 3 charges of mischief. A student-led petition also began, demanding that the university change its name in order to separate Egerton Ryerson’s genocidal legacy from a school of higher education. 


As settler Canada resists in responding to necessary calls for accountability and justice for Indigenous peoples, more and more protesters are creating new calls to action. You can keep up to date with many acts of resilience here, and learn about Indigenous-led bike ride tours in Winnipeg here.

The Everyone Rides Initiative’s community partners, the Hamilton Regional Indian Center and the Aboriginal Health Centre, are two of many resources for Indigenous Hamiltonians to access, found here

We encourage everyone to read the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action, and apply the directives to your own workplaces and everyday lives.