Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC)

Dear Ms McGuire and Commissioners 

Re: Input on “derogatory” display names 

My concern is about your attention to this issue – colleagues who share this concern note that false information used in the accusations have led to the renaming and toppling of statues etc. You aid “derogatory,” but we would say accusations, very much so in the case of the renaming of Ryerson University, its associated journals, and the desecration and toppling of the statue of Ryerson on the campus. 

Egerton Ryerson was an honourable, progressive leader in education and a friend, even “brother” to Indigenous people. The process that led to his name being vilified, now to be removed and the statue, etc., was seriously flawed. Not one published historian (see list below) ever found any influence he had on the appalling Canadian residential school system that was established after his death. Nor did the Truth and Reconciliation Commission find him to be at fault. He was the creator (largely) of the Ontario state school system, which also influenced the western provinces. He supported the voluntary, bilingual, schools established by Methodist Ojibway, that is, they wanted them, indeed saw them as essential to make the transition to farming required after the loss of their lands and fisheries to settlers.  

Ryerson himself lived with the Credit Ojibway for a year, learned Ojibway and made life-lasting friends with some. He was given an Ojibway name by a chief, Cheechok. In his memoir, The Life and Times of Egerton Ryerson, he described how he felt at one with them. 

The Ryerson Task Force that recommended the renaming was composed of twelve people, not one of whom was an expert on Ryerson. Briefs that explained both how important his work was and that he had positive relations with Indigenous persons were ignored. The two co-chairs themselves expressed favourable views on the toppling of the statue—hardly impartiality. 

The University administration failed to address the hurts and wounds experienced by Indigenous students (and possibly staff and faculty), from the false accusations circulated. Some told the task force that they felt awful passing the statue of the man who “killed my people.” But he did not. It was not the task force’s mandate to address these concerns, but they seem not to have understood that the accusations were false, that indeed he was close to and warmly regarded by Indigenous people, that he supported their land claims, intervened (unsuccessfully) on their claim for fishing rights. 

The Board of Governors at RU was at fault also—it simply accepted the task force’s (flawed) report without any independent review. It is not clear if its decision, or that of the task force, were unanimous; no vote was recorded. 

The OHRC joined in the vilification of Ryerson, if unwittingly, by referring to his “legacy in light of his role in Canada’s residential school system,” but he had no role in it, but only the voluntary schools wanted by the Ojibway. 

The Renaming of Dundas Street: The street renaming is another concern, although scholarly opinion is divided on the question of Dundas’s responsibility for delay in the abolition of the slave trade. There can be no doubt that he was responsible for one great achievement: the abolition of slavery in Scotland, by defending (he was a lawyer) a runaway slave. Later, as a Member of Parliament, he moved an amendment to a bill of William Wilberforce to make abolition gradual, for which he is now denounced. But experts are divided (unlike the Ryerson matter, for which NO expert ever considered him culpable). Wilberforce’s 1790 motion to abolish the slave trade was defeated 163 to 88. He brought a bill next, in 1792, which Dundas got amended to make emancipation gradual. As amended, it passed the House of Commons 235 to 85, the first Parliamentary condemnation of slavery or the slave trade in British history .However, the House of Lords did not pass it, nor had it supported Wilberforce’s initial motion. Yet, some people believe that thousands of Africans would have been spared slavery if Dundas had not moved his amendment, the position that influenced the City of Toronto decision. It was not until 1807 that a law was passed, in both Houses, that finally abolished the slave trade. The Wikipedia entry on Dundas lists the expert sources on both sides. 

Conclusion: Dr..McDonald states -I do not have a concrete recommendation to make. The dead evidently have no rights, nor can their families act for them. Ryerson never asked to be honoured with a statue or a university, nor did Dundas ask for a town or street to be named after him. Yet both have been grossly dishonoured. Can there be some kind of cooling-off period before such drastic decisions are acted upon, and/or some requirement that experts on the subject be consulted? The current situation is deplorable. 

Yours sincerely 
Lynn McDonald, CM, PhD, LLD (hon), Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, professor emerita 

Published sources on Ryerson: 

Burwash, Nathanael. Egerton Ryerson. Toronto: Morang, 1905. 

Damaia, Laura. Egerton Ryerson. Don Mills ON: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 1975. 

Fortune, Fortune, A is for Assimilation:The ABC’s of Canada’s Aboriginal people and residential schools. Owen Sound ON: Restoring the Circle, 2011. 

Fortune, Len. Act Indian: not Indian Act. Owen Sound: Restoring the Circle 2013. 

Gidney, R.D. “Egerton Ryerson,” Dictionary of Canadian Biography. vol. 11: 1881-1890): 783-795. 

Hodgins, George. Prospectus The Educational System of Ontario; Its Foundation and Administration from 1844 to 1884. Being a personal and historical Narrative of the Events of Forty Years, [1897]. 

Get Jones, Peter. Life and Journals of Ka-ke-wa-quo-wa-by(Rev Peter Jones) Wesleyan Missionary. Toronto: Anson Green 1860. 

MacLean, Hope. The Hidden Agenda: Methodist Attitudes to the Ojibwa and the Development of Indian Schooling in Upper Canada, 1821-1860,” M.A. thesis, University of Toronto,1978. 

MacLean, Hope. “A Positive Experiment in Aboriginal Education: The Methodist Ojibwa Day Schools in Upper Canada 1824-1855.” Canadian Journal of Native Studies XXII, 1(2002):23-63. 

MacLean, Hope. “Ojibwa Participation in Methodist Residential Schools in Upper Canada.” Canadian Journal of Native Studies XXV (2005):93-137. 

McDonald, Neil and Alf Chaiton,. eds. Egerton Ryerson and His Times. Toronto: Macmillan of Canada. 1978. 

McLaren, Kristin. “’We had no desire to be set apart’: Forced Segregation of Black Students in Canada West Public Schools and Myths of British Egalitarianism.” Social History / Histoire sociale 37(73), (2004):27 – 50. 

Miller, J.R. Shingwauk’s Vision: A History of Residential Schools. Toronto: University of Toronto Press 1996. 

Miller, J.R. Skyscrapers Hide the Heavens: A History of Indian-White Relations in Canada.  

Toronto: University of Toronto Press 4th ed. 2018 [2000]. 

Nightingale, Florence. “Sanitary Statistics of Native Colonial Schools and Hospitals.” Transactions of the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science1863. 

Putnam, J. Harold. Egerton Ryerson and Education in Upper Canada. Toronto: Wm Briggs, 1912. 

Sissons, C.B. Egerton Ryerson: His Life and Letters. 2 vols .Toronto: Clarke Irwin 1937-47. 

Smith, Donald B. Sacred Feathers: The Reverend Peter Jones (Kahkewaquonaby) and the Mississauga Indians. 2nd ed. University of Toronto Press 2013 [1988]. 

Smith, Donald B. Mississauga Portraits. Ojibwe Voices from Nineteenth-Century Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2013. 

Smith, Donald B. “Egerton Ryerson and the Mississauga, 1826 to 1856, An Appeal for Further Study.” Ontario History. 113 (autumn 2021).  

Stagg, Ronald and Patrice Dutil. ”The Imbecile Attack on Egerton Ryerson.” Dorchester Review 

(3 June 2021), 

Life and Journals of Kahkewaquonaby (Rev Peter Jones), Wesleyan missionary. Toronto: A. Green, 1860.