Who was Egerton Ryerson?


Who was Egerton Ryerson?  Should his statue be removed?

Currently in the midst of a swirl of controversy stands the statue of Egerton Ryerson, champion of public education and namesake of the University where students are demanding it’s removal.

Born in 1803, in Charlotteville Township, Upper Canada,at 17 years of age Egerton rebelled against his Anglican father, joining the Methodist Church. He left home and worked as an usher in a London Grammar School, but returned home to work the farm when his father asked him to. After a time, he left home again, this time to attend Gore District Grammar School in Hamilton, where he studied Latin and Greek in preparation to be a circuit rider or missionary. As a Circuit rider, he was assigned to the York region where he ministered to the people and helped organize congregations. It was four weeks of travel, which exposed him to the life of early pioneers.  He quickly became the defender of Episcopal Methodism, publishing articles and books arguing against the views of John Strachan, a chief rival of the methodist church and a member of the Family Compact. 

In 1829 he was elected editor of Canada’s first religious newspaper, the Christian Guardian. 

In April 1831, Ryerson wrote in The Christian Guardian newspaper,

“On the importance of education generally we may remark, it is as necessary as the light – it should be as common as water and as free as air. Education among the people is the best security of a good government and constitutional liberty; it yields a steady, unbending support to the former, and effectually protects the latter… The first object of a wise government should be the education of the people…Partial knowledge is better than total ignorance. If total ignorance be a bad and dangerous thing, every degree of knowledge lessens both the evil and the danger.”

In that same decade, Ryerson helped found the Upper Canada in Cobourg, assuming the presidency of the school in 1941 when it was incorporated as Victoria College, which is now part of University of Toronto.  In 1844  Governor General Sir Charles Metcalfe asked him to become Chief Superintendent of Education for Upper Canada. This was the result of Ryerson’s fight for secularization reforms. The purpose was to keep absolute power away from any one church, leading to the sale of large tracts of land, called the “Clergy Reserves” and the education system becoming more publicly run. The Common School bill of 1846 changed the way schools in Canada were structured and run. Because of Ryerson, schools have libraries, teachers have proper training and professional development and there is a central press using Canadian authors that publishes textbooks. He completely changed the structure of the school system, setting up District Superintendents, common textbooks and free education for all children.  

Students asking for the removal of his statue from Ryerson University claim that he was responsible for influencing the way Residential schools were run.  

Prior to Ryerson being commissioned to study and report on Native residential schools, they were run by the Canadian Government’s Department of Indian Affairs and mainly the Roman Catholic Church from 1877-1896. His report reviewed finances and emphasized the importance of a structure that focused on a strict schedule of 2 to 4 hours of learning during the summer with a 8-12 hours of  labour per day. In the winter, the study hours would increase, labour would decrease. The education was to include reading, English grammar, math, geometry, geography, history, agricultural chemistry, writing, drawing, music, bookkeeping and religion and morals.  He did believe that Native students should be schooled separately from the non-native students.  Starting at page 73 on the link, you can read his recommendations for schooling. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/35/Egerton_Ryerson_on_Residential_Schools.pdf

Residential schools housed and educated approximately 150,000 students up until 1996 when the last school closed.  It has been revealed that a large number of students experienced physical and sexual abuse while at these schools, and approximately 6000 died.

Should we blame Ryerson for what happened at the residential schools and remove his statue from the property of Ryerson University?

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