Ryerson University: A Unicorn Among Horses

Few blocks in Canada match the golden history of St. James Square purchased in 1850 by that Canadian giant, Egerton Ryerson. One of the great innovators and entrepreneurs in education! This tells how he founded Ontario's school system there after a long fight to get schools for every one. The Square was more than just the first home of his ministry because he inspired a provincial museum, art gallery, art school, model school and teacher's college there which changed Toronto.
The university that was the final grand accomplishment for the Square has endured more perils than most movies. Many of the barriers it had to overcome are described here for the first time. Every year brought more gauntlets to survive before an uncaring clutch of politicians who really didn't care much as long as it didn't cost too much and burn down and make them look bad.
The university now is a true city institution. Town and gown intertwine, and also inspire the neighbourhood. Yet the bureaucrats almost moved it to cheaper land in the suburbs.
Circumstance forced early instructors and professors into so many challenging duties that David Crombie, the future mayor and federal minister, ended up teaching Sociology to five courses, a subject he had never taken himself. Ted Toogood taught English and supervised athletics at the same time as he captained the Toronto Argos and led the team to victory in the first televised Grey Cup.
There were premiers who never really understood what the institute did. One of them tried to eliminate all of its three-year courses which would have crippled it forever. Ryerson Institute of Technology had to prove itself constantly because bureaucrats idolized universities and looked down their noses at newfangled technological education.Then just as it shook off the difficulties of its early life in a grungy neighbourhood, it faced crushing competition from new and jealous universities and colleges in the battle for provincial grants and the academic lifeblood of enrolment. 
There were many ironies. The Hall built by Egerton had been one of the architectual treasures of the city, a magnet for visitors because of its pleasant grounds and exhibits that were unknown in the rest of the new country. Then it was demolished without much fuss. It never would have happened just a few years later. There was a fascinating treasure hunt for the valuables in its cornerstone which was never found, which symbolized just how careless the province and the city had been with the Square over the decades.
There was even a president who blazed through the institute like one of the missiles he launched into space and the record books. His early notorious partner was assassinated because of the super cannons he built that changed world warfare.
For more than a century, important developments in education began and flourished there. Canada's first major institute of technology served as a model for the provincial colleges of arts and technology and then evolved into Ryerson University in this story by a veteran Toronto journalist and commentator who witnessed much of the early days as student president and member of important administration committees. John Downing is a commentator, author and commentator who has written three books, thousands of columns and editorials and appeared regularly on television. His experience in journalism and the community ranged from being President of the Canadian National Exhibition to Editor of the Toronto Sun.

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