Wednesday, April 7, 2021



A mouthy minority of activists in love with indigenous posturing has been blathering for several years about renaming Ryerson University and demolishing the statue on Gould of the great educator after which it was named. 

We know that those who don't know history are condemned to repeat it but in this case those trying to scrub the past have  no clue as to what went on.

They say Egerton Ryerson was responsible for the odious residential schools that were a blight on native families as callous bureaucrats snatched away their kids. But there are problems blaming Ryerson as the major figure in the dismal operation of indigenous residential schools since he was the creator and boss of the ONTARIO school system until 1876 and died in 1882 just as the FEDS began them.

If the no-nothings actually cared about facts rather than a fictional nonsensical cause they would have had to search verbal mountains for proof. After all Ryerson was a prodigious writer. An endless flow of words in letters, reports, sermons, speeches and even a lengthy biography poured out and as a proud stubborn Methodist there was no mistaking his meaning. But in a real life of real facts critics would find nothing but respect and even love for the Mississaugas as he worked around the Credit as a missionary.

In his monumental report and speeches of the mid-1840s that built the school system of Upper Canada and then the entire country as it was born, Ryerson did recommend residential schools for what everyone called Indians because he felt they needed lessons in agriculture instead of relying on hunting and fishing. 

Yet his main thrust was for free education for all, not just schools for the more prosperous families, and for Normal schools for budding teachers, the first public museum, textbook publisher, and art gallery. His role when some chiefs and officials wanted to start two indigenous schools was as the expert adviser to produce a curriculum to help if Indians were to settle and not roam. Those schools failed because the government didn't help enough but were better than what the feds later forced without Ryerson's tolerance for minorities and other religions.

When the first assaults on the Ryerson name began because supposedly he had been integral to the shameful residential schools, I was perplexed. Where in heck did that come from? A great PROVINCIAL educator was blamed for a FEDERAL operation that festered AFTER he died.

I also worried about what I might have missed when I ransacked the archives of the university, city and province for my book Ryerson University - A Unicorn Among Horses. I read a wealth of his writings, even the original letters he sent home from his many inspection trips to England and Europe. I read yellowed newspaper clippings about his death as a "great" Canadian, and how there had been a subscription where the government and pupils from as far away as the New England States had contributed $8,000 for his statue. (Even politicians gave their dollar.) 

Almost nothing in all that about residential schools.

I read his entry in The Canadian Encyclopedia and books of admiration by historians, one of whom wrote Ryerson's first head, H.H. Kerr, to say that he could not imagine a more suitable name for a university than Ryerson's.  Nothing about indigenous residential schools.

So when I wrote about him and how what he left behind grew into a university, I mentioned residential schools in only one sentence. 

Not that I hated the idea of residential schools, not when I grew up reading about legendary Eton and Harrow. Then there was the Ontario equivalents like prestigious Upper Canada College, and the fictional ones like Hogwarts. After I was orphaned, I was almost shipped off to Ridley.

In all my experiences at Ryerson, I never heard a peep that the international giant was a racist who considered the indigenous to be inferior. I have a certificate, diploma and degree from Ryerson. I was student president and editor of the campus newspaper. I lectured there, and served on board of governors committees and task forces doing everything from searching for a new president and journalism chair, revising the Ryerson act, overhauling the photography courses, advising the journalism department and writing the history plaques.

Never a word against the great Canadian!

This anti-name campaign resembles a stunt by drunken freshmen in an academic pub to replace the historic name on a school that was supposed to be different. Of course the university now wallows in correctness, with education pushed to one side, if there is time left over from flagellation, and the symbol of a statue almost 10 feet high on a granite base of similar size, one of the better and more meaningful statues of the city, is to be cast aside into a swamp of indifference and ignorance.

Two Ryerson profs, Ron Stagg and Patrick Dutil, in a fine piece in the National Post on April 6, detail the indigenous history of the church leader. How the tribe so honoured him they made him a chief,  and how he had as a lifelong friend a chief known in English as Peter Jones. He even made a secret appeal to Queen Victoria when the Mississaugas had land confiscated by bureaucrats.  (Such was the power and clout of Ryerson that he started a college named after Victoria which of course became part of U of T, the best university in the country according to my three sons and me who all went there.)

The Ryerson academics concluded their Post article, which is filled with facts, unlike those making silly accusations, with this appeal. I would urge that Ryerson grads listen because it is time they rebel at the waves of nonsense coming out of the university and the committees considering the name dump.

They finished: "Torontonians today must recognize that Egerton Ryerson has been falsely accused and restore their pride in celebrating one of the best minds of their past."

The critics should at the very least be sentenced to scrubbing his statue with toothbrushes, as we once did with frosh. But that might hurt their feelings, and heavens we never ever should do that, especially in the modern classroom as universities wilt from actually teaching.


1 comment:

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