This letter was sent originally to Premier Ford and the other persons on 25 November, with 38 signatures, re-sent on 12 December with 143 signatures. The signers show a good range of people, many professors (as you would expect), plus health care professionals, people in business, the public service, media and sports. The shorter list here reflects that great range, and includes some very distinguished people. To have your name added to the signatures already on it, please forward your name to and ask for your name to be added to the signatures of the Provincial Government Letter. You do not need to physically sign the letter. Your name will appear in alphabetical order along with other friends and supporters of Egerton Ryerson. Please forward this letter to friends and colleagues.

Provincial Government Letter

Hon Doug Ford, MPP, premier of Ontario 
Hon Jill Dunlop, MPP, minister of Colleges and Universities  
Andrea Horwath, MPP, leader of the Opposition  
Steven Del Duca, MPP, leader of the Liberal Party of Ontario  
Mike Schreiner, MPP, leader, Green Party of Ontario                                  

12 December 2021 

Dear Mr Ford, Ms Dunlop, Ms Horwath, Mr Del Duca and Mr Schreiner  

re: Ryerson University name change 

You are no doubt aware of the decision taken by the Board of Governors of Ryerson University, based on a report from a task force, “Standing Strong,” to drop the name Ryerson, an action that will require legislation. The Ryerson Institute of Technology was promoted to university status in 1993 by an act of the Legislature as Ryerson Polytechnic University, then in 2002 to Ryerson University.

This letter was sent to you originally on 25 November, with 38 signatures. It is sent again now, with 143 signatures and will doubtless go again as further people sign up.

We, the undersigned, members of the newly-formed Friends of Egerton Ryerson and other supporters, are concerned that there were gross failures in how the decision was reached. The Board of Governors, the highest authority, simply went along with the recommendations of the task force, based on false accusations. It had no review conducted on the report. Instead, it quickly announced dropping the Ryerson name. The Government of Ontario appoints nine of the 24 members of the board. How they voted on the proposed name change is not clear, as no vote was recorded in the announcement.  

We share the concern of many Canadians about the long history of mistreatment of Indigenous people and most recently the discovery of unmarked graves of children who were pupils in Indian residential schools. However, we believe that, for some people, Egerton Ryerson has become a scapegoat.  

Failures at Ryerson University: The name of the university is not nearly as important as the loss of normal academic standards, notably the ability to find and critically assess data. Some faculty and students were fearful of speaking out in defence of Egerton Ryerson. There was also a failure of care on the part of the administration. Many Indigenous students were genuinely harmed by seeing the statue of Ryerson, thinking, based on misinformation, that he was responsible for the deaths at residential schools. 

  • The Ryerson administration had badly erred earlier by adding a plaque to the statue to  “contextualize” Ryerson, yet the text, after acknowledging his positive role in the creation of the Ontario school system, stated that “Ryerson’s recommendations were instrumental in the design and implementation of the Indian Residential School System,” when in fact he supported the bilingual, voluntary, schools established by Ojibway leaders and knew nothing of the later, federally-imposed, system. 
  • The administration also failed to take steps to prevent the vandalism after the discovery of 215 graves at a residential school near Kamloops, 6 June 2021. Children’s shoes were left at the statue to commemorate the deaths, as was done on the grounds of former residential schools where deaths actually occurred. The statue’s hands were painted red for blood. The toppling and beheading took place soon after, on 21 June.
  • A further concern, the task force called for, in the section, “Responsibility to educate,” material to be made available, including a display and video, on Ryerson’s legacy. This would include, as well as his contribution to the Ontario school system, “his role in the development of residential schools” (SSTF,18). Yet, while he gave 30 plus years of work to establishing Ontario’s progressive school system, and many years of his life to Indigenous people, his only connection with the residential school system consists of a single handwritten letter in 1847, and that not printed until 1898, as Appendix A. Report of Dr Ryerson on Industrial Schools Education Office (and see Appendix 3). 

The faulty process: The Board of Governors’ decision was based on the recommendation of the “Standing Strong” task force appointed by the university president, Dr Lachemi. Not one member of it had any expertise on Ryerson himself. The two co-chairs were far from impartial, but announced their regret that many faculty, staff and students who had worked for the statue’s removal “were not given the opportunity to witness the moment it came down” (“Task Force Remains Committed to carry out their mandate” Ryerson Today 6 June 2021). 

There were briefs from former students and faculty giving highly favourable views on Ryerson and a desire to keep the name, but these were dismissed as insignificant and largely ignored.  The report included some positive statements about Ryerson, even on his relations with Indigenous people, but the featured quotations from “community members” were all negative. (See Appendix 3: Ten Further Errors of the Standing Strong Task Force.) 

Ryerson University decisions without evidence: Not one scholarly publication, that is, those based on research from documents of the time, implicated Ryerson in the establishment of the appalling residential school system, see Appendix 1: Scholarly Sources. For what the Ryerson community does not know about their namesake, but should know, see Appendix 2, Egerton Ryerson’s Relations with Indigenous People.  

The cost of the name change: The name change would cause damage to the value of the university’s degrees and programs. Some programs are well known internationally, thanks to the dedicated work of able faculty members. Ryerson University and its scholarships have lost and continue to lose donors as a result of the proposed name change. Then there is the cost of physically making the change—how much will that cost the taxpayers of Ontario? 

Priority actions: We recommend that the provincial government deal with the urgent problems of university governance evident at Ryerson before any change of name is considered, specifically: 

  1. 1.That the province’s appointees to the board be called in to consider how to rectify the situation, by soliciting outside assistance in restoring normal academic standards and academic freedom. Senior administrators from other universities may be needed to restore normal university standards of functioning. 
  2. That future provincial appointees to boards of governors of universities and colleges be informed that upholding academic standards and academic freedom are essential duties.      

Ryerson University needs rescuing. 


Please reply to

Yours sincerely,

Steve A Arshinoff, MD, FRCSC

Robin Brooks-Hill, M.D., F.R.C.P.(C), D.A.B.P.N

Stephanie Cole, BSc

Philip Colfox 3rd Bart.

Mary E. Durocher, NCSO

Lionel J. Goffart, CD, QC

George W.S Gordon, P. Eng

Lauren Hoshoian

Bill Ingwersen, MA

Judith Ingwersen, BSc

Marvyne Jenoff, Poet, visual artist

Susan James, MA, Retired International Development Officer

Jean MacIntyre

Bob MacIntyre, BA

Harry Malcolmson, BA, MA

Jane Martin, MA, visual artist

Mark McBurney, professor emeritus DIPL.T.  B.ARCH. M.E.S.  O.A.A M.R.A.I.C.

Lynn McDonald CM, PhD, LLD (hon), FRHistS, professor emerita

Patricia Nowlan Mousseau, BA

Darlene Powell, researcher/writer

Peter Ryerson, B.Econ.

Rick Ryerson, UEL

Zoe Ryerson                                                              

Richard Schultz, professor emeritus McGill University

Victor Shepherd, BA., B.D., M.A., Th.D., S.T.D.

Kathy Jankowski-Slegers, Professional Skating Coach

Robert Bruce Specht, BFA

Ronald F. Williamson, PhD 

F. Michael Walsh, BA, MA, MBA, PhD, Former Chair Board of Governors, University of Guelph

Copied to all MPPs 

Appendix 1: Scholarly sources on the life and work of Egerton Ryerson 

Burwash, Nathanael. Egerton Ryerson.  Toronto: Morang 11905.  

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

Fortune, Len. 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.  

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. 1828-1860” 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.   

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, 1826-1856. An Appeal for Further Study,” Ontario History vol. 113 (Autumn 2021).  

Thomas, Clara. Ryerson of Upper Canada. Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1969.  

 Timko, Robert M. and Aleksandr I. Kubyshkin, “Egerton Ryerson: building a spiritual and educational foundation for a Canadian identity.” Area Studies. International Relations. 21,4 (2016):32-43.  

Walker, James. “African Canadians.” In Paul Robert Magocsi, ed. Encyclopedia of Canada’s Peoples. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999, 39-76.  

Appendix 2. Egerton Ryerson’s Relations with Indigenous People Did you know: 

  • That Egerton Ryerson in 1826-27 lived with Ojibway people and learned to speak Ojibway?  
  • That “they received me with affection and enabled me to embrace them as brethren and love them as mine own people” and “1 feel an inexpressible joy in taking up my abode with them”? (cited by Burwash, Chapter 1). 
  • That he was recognized as a “brother” by an Ojibway chief, and given an Ojibway name, “Cheechock,” which means “Bird on a Wing”? (Ryerson, The Story of My Life, 60). 
  • That an Ojibway Methodist chief addressed him as “My dear Brother” in sending him a letter-to-the editor at the Christian Guardian? (6 February 1830, 90-91). 
  • That Ryerson assisted the Credit Ojibway with economic development, sharing his own farming skills (he was a farm boy) when they had decided that farming was their path to prosperity, given the loss of their land and fishing grounds? (Credit Mission Letterbook, Library and Archives Canada). 
  • That he supported their land claims and claim for exclusive fishing rights? (Ryerson letter to the colonial secretary, Lord Glenelg, Library and Archives Canada). 
  • That he promoted the careers of Ojibway leaders? That he nominated one Ojibway leader, Sacred Feathers, to be the Western superintendent of Indian Affairs in Canada West (Ontario)? Yes, an Indigenous person to be in charge of the area!  (letter to chief superintendent of Indian Affairs, cited by Smith, Sacred Feathers, 226). 

Ryerson, Egerton. The Story of My Life, ed. George Hodgins, 1882. 

Appendix 3: Ten Further Errors in the Task Force Report 

  1. 1.While the task force nowhere called Ryerson the “architect” of the federal residential school system, it frequently treated him as seriously responsible for it, by referring to “his role in the development of residential schools in Canada,” with the need to “interpret these findings both with their historical and modern context” (SSTF,7). What “historical context”? There is not one source that implicates him (Appendix 1, Scholarly Sources). 
  2. The Task Force report is pervaded with the error of “presentism”, that is, the assumption that current language and conditions can be apply to those in the past.  
  3. Task Force members failed to understand the 19th century Anthropological use of “civilized” and “civilizing,” which refer primarily to the use of permanent settlements. Indeed, the first “civilizations” were in Mesopotamia, China and the Indus Valley, not Europe (see Morgan, Ancient Society, 1877). Ojibway leaders also used the term in the sense of settling down—they wanted to be “civilized,” that is, to take up agriculture because their hunting grounds were gone. Ojibway chief Sacred Feathers (Peter Jones) used the term in describing how Indigenous people can be “prepared to pursue civilized life” (Jones, 22). The terminology, however, is problematic as it is also used to convey superiority and thus for today’s usage should be avoided.  
  4. The task force was critical of Ryerson for wanting to “Christianize” as well as to “civilize,” Indigenous people (SSTF 44). This is treating current, secular, values as good for all time. Values are neither right nor wrong—they are not facts but beliefs or moral judgments. The task force throughout put the blame for the terrible errors of the Canadian residential school system on Ryerson, without evidence. It nowhere acknowledged that the Indigenous schools that Ryerson supported were different: voluntary and bilingual, what Indigenous leaders themselves wanted. 
  5. The task force misconstrued Ryerson’s short, handwritten letter on “industrial schools.” The only time he addressed residential schools was in when he responded to a request from the Department of Indian Affairs.  The task force stated that he would relegate Indigenous people to “very long hours of manual labour, extensive religious teaching and limited academic instruction” (SSTF, 45). Yet his recommendation was to add a new tier to the available education at voluntary, bilingual schools, already set up, with access to Victoria College for academically inclined (male) students. The new tier would be residential, for male students to get training in farming, when, according to the 1861 Census of Canada West, Ontario “was almost exclusively agricultural.” 

Yes, long hours were common in farm work, and very few had access to formal schooling. Indigenous students did get into Victoria College in equivalent numbers to settlers. Omitted in the task force report were Ryerson’s positive words, that he looked to the “gratifying result to see graduates of our Indian industrial schools become overseers of some of the largest farms in Canada, nor will it be a less gratifying result to see them industrious and prosperous farmers on their own account.” 

  • The report uses flowery, high-sounding language, although its own work was shoddy. A lofty goal is given: “Our recommendations … reflect the kind of ancestors we wish to become” (SSTF, 13). It claimed that its deliberations were “respectfully collaborative” (SSTF, 13). But people who sent in pro-Ryerson briefs or statements saw them ignored.  
  • Another example of pretentious sentiments is the stated goal of being “unapologetically bold, intentionally diverse and inclusive, dedicated to excellence… and a champion of sustainability” (SSTF, 13). Yet Ryerson himself was exemplary in his boldness and excellence: the creation of a comprehensive educational system, that influenced other provinces and England, and was inclusive (non-denominational schools, for all, when the English system was elitist!). As for “sustainability,” Ryerson taught sustainable farming to Indigenous people and published a book on the subject (First Lessons on Agriculture, 1871). 
  • The task force committed itself “to develop principles as to how to respond to Ryerson’s legacy,” (SSTF,7) clearly implying a negative legacy that needed response. The task force stated, without documentation, that the school structure Ryerson recommended “reflected his belief in racial hierarchy implied through his presumption about the capacity of Indigenous people and his resulting assessment that their educational needs differed from students in common or public schools” (SSTF, 44). In some instances, the task force made firm statements that are contradicted by the historical record, for example ,that Ryerson’s views “did not reflect the interests of Indigenous peoples themselves” (SSTF, 45),  ignoring the close, ongoing, connections he had with Indigenous leaders. 
  • The task force moved swiftly from the conclusion that community members were harmed by the name and statue of Ryerson (SSTF, 55) to the need to rename and remove. These harms came from misinformation which was  not addressed by the university administration.     

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

Morgan, Lewis H. Ancient Society. New York, 1877. 

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