Len Fortune, Dip. Phot Arts, Ryerson Institute of Technology, assistant general manager Toronto Sun (ret.) TRC ambassador, Niagara (Anglican) Diocese


After 51 years, either in mothballs or lost, Egerton Ryerson’s 1847 letter to George Vardon returned to prime time in 1898, leaving many questions unanswered
By Len Fortune
December 2021

A letter written in 1847, is the most significant document in the assault on Egerton Ryerson’s legacy; it’s disheartening, the anti-Ryerson crowd, if they actually took the time to read it, refused to put the letter into perspective, and in context with the times.

On September 24, 1898, the Superintendent of Printing in Ottawa spoke harshly about a pending printing job, “I beg to say that I cannot understand why you should confound this ( a letter written by Egerton Ryerson ) with any copy of the Annual Report, as it has nothing to do with that report.”

He was carping about attaching Ryerson’s five-page correspondence – originally hand-written and later dubbed, Dr. Ryerson’s 1847 Report on Industrial Schools as an addendum to the 1898 Indian Affairs Annual Report.

The printer was right, Ryerson’s letter, written 51 years prior, had nothing to do with the annual report, and it is now a mystery why the letter was included in the government publication.

The letter was requested by Indian Affairs’ Assistant Superintendent, George Vardon in 1847, appears to have been dormant for five decades, well after Parliament mobilized the horrific Residential Schools system. It’s possible Ryerson’s five pages of suggestions were either in mothballs or misplaced, and not readily at hand for the undisputable architect of our national shame, the Canadian Government to replicate.

The above is riveting when realizing Ryerson’s letter to George Vardon was the main source or reference used by the anti-Ryerson faction to destroy Egerton Ryerson. And although his communique heralded a solid curriculum and a sound base for a quality education, the anti-Ryerson clique cherry-picked the parts which they interpreted as “racism” and passed over an exceptionable plan imparting opportunities for a quality existence in Upper Canada for Indigenous learners. Other than the letter, the anti-Ryerson faction had little else by way of their damnation of a good man and friend of First Peoples.

Historian, Donald B. Smith has written, that when the letter in its new form was read in 1898, it was “without historical context ( which ) gave the erroneous impression that Egerton Ryerson had designed the draconian repressive system.”

It was Indian Affairs Superintendent General, Clifford Sifton who both resurfaced the letter in 1898, and had it planted into the report – by doing so, it’s difficult to accept that Sifton’s actions are not suspect.

In June of this year, Victoria University President, William Robins, walked a fine line in his prologue to the university’s report on Egerton Ryerson’s legacy. Attempting to be partial in the Methodist minister contentious set to, he folded like many others who feared the rage of the anti-Ryerson clique.

Sadly, both Robins and Ryerson University president Mohamed Lachemi allowed their rebel swarm to bully both them and the non-supporters of WOKEism – the non-supporters may well be the silent majority in this tragedy that has played out on the Ryerson campus.

Robins also made note of scholars, who in the late 1990s, discovered Ryerson’s communique; the Victoria University president emphasized there were many questions that needed to be answer involving the recognized letter of note.

If it is the case, why wasn’t the Egerton Ryerson file fully investigated before he was metaphorically executed, isn’t that the democratic way? It’s also upsetting that Robins decided to follow the lead of the disruptors “with so many questions” left unanswered – his researchers’ analysis of Ryerson legacy is the Swiss cheese of all reports – same can be said of the Ryerson University report, both were full of holes, unbecoming for the two institutions of higher learning.

Robins’ take on Ryerson’s proposals is also wanting; he submitted that the Methodist minister planned to train Indigenous learners to become “agricultural laborers,” but failed to inform his readers that Ryerson had confidence that his students could go on to become “overseers of some the largest farms in Canada – as Ryerson had wished for and urged in his letter.

Robins and his researchers, like Lachemi and his task force committed serious sins of omission, overlooking any trace of goodwill that would reflect Egerton Ryerson’s humanity as it related to First Peoples.

For rational minds, Ryerson’s suggestions were excellent, and if carried out the way he suggested, the Indian community had a good chance of surviving the horrors of despair, poverty, disease, and alcoholism. In his five pages, there is no suggestion of stealing Indigenous culture, abusing students, sexually or physically or assimilating them, his dream was to help them to become “sober and industrious young men.”

Significantly, all Indigenous afflictions mentioned above, originated from its interactions with White settlers – Ryerson in his early career, went out of his way to teach the Mississaugas of the Credit the means to flourish in an environment controlled by settlers.

Egerton Ryerson was six feet deep in a Toronto cemetery when most of the Residential School abuses were rampant throughout Canada, schools bearing no resemblance to the schools that he envisioned and commented on in his letter mailed in 1847.

My Uncle Hector would always ask in times of serious revelations, “Do you want a story, or do you want the truth?” Obviously, the anti-Ryerson clique want a story, a story they have created.

O foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes and see not, which have ears and hear not.

Jeremiah 5:21, King James Bible

1 reply
  1. R. Dundas
    R. Dundas says:

    The truth will always outlast the lie …. it just takes a little longer.

Comments are closed.