Ryerson University’s administration, sadly, is determined to exorcise the name of Egerton Ryerson as if he were a demonic creature who brought hell on Canada’s Indigenous, writes Mark Bonokoski. 

Ryerson University’s administration, sadly, is determined to exorcise the name of Egerton Ryerson as if he were a demonic creature who brought hell on Canada’s Indigenous.

But he did not.

The task force struck to find Ryerson a new name and a bleached history, however, cares not for the truth.

A few months ago, when thugs with a Mohawk flag toppled the statue of Ryerson near the institute’s southern gate, and then lopped off its head, no one in the administration worked up a sweat.

The desecration fit its underlying narrative: Ryerson was quite likely the architect of the residential school system that indeed brought hell on Canada’s Indigenous.

But that would be a lie. Why would an academic institute knowingly use a lie to sell its objective?

Lynn McDonald, former MP, professor emerita at the University of Guelph, and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, says Ryerson’s historical record vindicates the charges against him and that the university has utterly failed to acquaint students with who he was.

She is also on the Friends of Egerton Ryerson Committee and, as such, wrote the following for the Financial Post.

“Although the task force conceded that Ryerson was not “the architect” of the residential school system, it repeated other accusations against him as if they were true,” wrote McDonald. “Yet — something that should be of crucial interest in a university — a long record of scholarly publications about Ryerson by serious researchers, extending from 1937 to 2021, yields no evidence to implicate him.”

Despite a long list of accolades, the Ryerson task force already has its mind made up.

Ryerson is going down, and you can bet the pinks to the Buick on it.

Some notes from MacDonald:

Ryerson brought in a school system free for all, boys and girls, plus teacher training, a model school, museum and free public libraries. He held that, since the whole of society benefits from the education of all, taxpayers should pay for it, whether they had children in it or not.

Did you know that Egerton Ryerson was recognized in his time as a friend and brother of the Mississaugas of the Credit River?

Ryerson supported their goals of self-government and education for their children, to be bilingual–Ojibway and English.

Note the dates: Ryerson’s involvement in the Mississauga schools long pre-dated adoption of the Indian Act, in 1876, and its amendment to establish residential schools in 1883, and further amendments to make attendance mandatory, assign the RCMP to enforce attendance, and finally to take away guardianship of their children from Indigenous parents, to give it to the schools’ principals.

Ryerson worked for the provincial government, as Superintendent of Education, while the (justifiably) hated residential schools were federal.

Ryerson understood the importance of language for the survival of a culture, and accordingly supported instruction in Ojibway. He, as the Ojibway themselves, understood the need for Indigenous people to be able to communicate in English to government officials.

Did you know that he made introductions for Ojibway leader Kahkewaquonaby to British officials, and supported the case he made?

Did you know that Ryerson nominated Kahkewaquonaby to be the Western superintendent of Indian Affairs in Canada West (Ontario)? Yes, an Indigenous person to being charge of territory under the control of the Indian Affairs Department.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which reported in 2015, did not blame Ryerson for the residential schools;    nor did its chair, Murray Sinclair, when he gave the Faculty Lecture at Ryerson a year later,” wrote MacDonald.

“But the accusations against Ryerson are now both widespread in social media and uncritically repeated in television and newspaper accounts.”