Friday, December 10, 2021


If our world hadn't been stampeded into stupid decisions where a few activists with a feeble grasp on real facts determine what is "appropriate" for the rest of us, it would be a source of great campus merriment that the name of Ryerson University is going to be changed by silly process.

Once again academic bureaucracy has run amuck, listening to the shrill and not the sensible. The country has been seduced by the horrible tales of residential school abuses for the vulnerable Indigenous pupils and the far less legitimate land grabs and environmental claims by First Nations. And the title for the university has become victim to the extremists hungry for a lazy victory.

 Ryerson has been around in various forms since 1948 when it was born in the fallout of the war. Over the decades it has educated nearly 200,000 and has nearly 50,000 students. It is 10th in the country in size and growing, if it can survive the inane leadership of the current administrators and student leaders. 

So if you have any sense and are contemplating changing a name honoured by 70 years of use by hundreds of thousands of alumni, students and staff, you ask what they think of the abandonment of the name of a great educator and churchman. Of course you would if you really wanted to know. But they really don't.

Compared to Egerton Ryerson's record as a missionary and friend in what was then called Indian tribes and his creation of a free school system along with a university, museum, art school etc........, those making the decision today to trash his name are pygmies (which is cultural appropriation, I suppose, but everything you say now is wrong according to some group.)

Yet they have cooked the books, just to make sure. I have been asked, along with the hordes in the giant Ryerson family, for a new name for a major university. Just to make sure there is a change, the name of Ryerson is not included as a choice.

Now I do have credentials when it comes to choosing a name. After all, I am a graduate, with a diploma and a degree, and I did write a history of the university, and I did teach there, and I did serve as student president, campus editor and member of the board of governors and various advisory committees, presidential search committees and task forces. I helped word the first historic plaques and I did interview all the pioneers of staff, students, premiers, principals and presidents of the first three decades.

By golly, there was even a time when they asked me to run the journalism department or whatever they call it now. Fortunately for Ryerson, and me, I liked being Editor of the Toronto Sun.

Once upon a time, Egerton Ryerson was so revered that even poor students contributed a few coins when they raised a statue to him. The notables of the city and provinc flocked to the unveiling and the prime minister advised the sculptor on the face. Now the statue has been trashed and no one has done anything about doing the same to the vandals who ripped down one of the more famous statues in the city.

One cause is politicians who cater to the shouters and the ignorant in their costly seduction of voters. This has all unfolded under Indigenous war banners which supposedly make it OK to claim that many white immigrants have been an evil despoiler of a peaceful heaven of a country and that past mistreatment of the latest Indigenous peoples justify special consideration when it comes to treatment and taxation.

Just about any stunt is pretended to be legal when it comes to blockades, spoiling what society used to treasure and PR preening. Our various boards like the one running the CNE have been conned into starting their meetings by saying it is all taking place on the traditional lands of various Indigenous groups, which ignores that half of Exhibition Place is landfill and indeed the city has at least eight square miles of landfill, including half the Island which was subject to Indigenous claim even though it was under water a century ago.

So they are trying to rename a university and change the name of major streets because of the real or imagined sins of white leaders but ignore that history is dotted with atrocities by every race. You don't have to search hard in Canada's history to find examples, which have been ignored when it suits their purpose. So no one suggests renaming Brantford because Joseph Brant, the Mohawk leader,  had 40 slaves and was involved in massacres. And there are other examples from when settlers feared the savages. 

Where do you stop and start when it comes to paging through history? Archaeology, the magazine of the respected Archaeological Institute of America, in the last issue reminded readers that people were living in North America "up to 23,000 years ago." Why the petroglyphs north east of Peterborough are a mere thousand years old, which certainly beats a lot of First Nations claims. and it has been made a world heritage site. Tracing tribes from several hundred years ago to those that were here thousand of years ago becomes rather difficult, especially when it was common to try to kill their neighbours. Just try to ask the Hurons.

So there are hidden agendas when it comes to lifting the carpet of the past. to trumpet about real or imagined grievances. Which means rigorous scholarship is needed when the claims are to historic rights and wrongs to justify special deals. Just who really was first when the proof abounds in cave painting and glyphs that migration was an endless trek from country to country to island to continent for countless centuries.

My father came from England in 1879 and my mother from Holland in 1905. Isn't that long enough for me to think that I am the equal to any Canadian when it comes to how I am treated by the rest of the country? I was the official sponsor of 43 Vietnamese boat people who came here in 1979. Isn't that long enough or are they always supposed to put Indigenous claims first. 

But back to the latest giant of history to be sacrificed on the altar of the few lazy activists looking for publicity rather than facts. The issue, they say, is that Egerton Ryerson created the infamous residential schools where children were ripped from their parents to be educated as proper cogs in a white society. A strange charge to make against a provincial educator who was dead before the federal residential schools really got going. But then the educator was also a church leader who believed that everyone was entitled to all the benefits of being saved again as a good Christian. All people were equal before his God. And of course he was terribly wrong when he talked approvingly of residential schools because just look at those evil institutions like Upper Canada College and Eton and Harrow.

It doesn't help with the shrill that Christian missionaries are out of favour these days. So my mother and my aunt as Toronto Bible College grads bringing medical help to our poor or to Africans just were manifestations of misguided white supremacists. And you know that awful Egerton Ryerson started as a missionary living with the natives on the Credit. And his closest friend was Indigenous. He's suspect because he was one of those stern Methodists who believed in the Golden Rule. Besides, what kind of a name is Egerton anyway. 

Once upon a time, academia wrote approvingly that how fitting it was that Howard Kerr thought as the first principal that Ryerson was a great name for his makeshift school.  After all, Ryerson believed in practical education and observation and struction on how to do real work. He even built his own skiff. What kind of a role model is that in an age where students have to be taught carefully to avoid any controversy that might lead them to thinking that it is all right not to think that the majority or the woke proponents are always right.

Ryerson is a great name for a school, that is if it still intends to educate women and men to cope with life in the real world and not just accept that there really is only one way to look at anything.


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