Ryerson University Will No Longer Be Named After Residential Schools Architect

The move to remove Egerton Ryerson from the school’s name comes after more than 1,000 unmarked graves were confirmed at residential school sites.
August 26, 2021, 10:04pm
Egerton Ryerson statue toppled
The statue of Egerton Ryerson lies on the sidewalk draped with an Indigenous flag after it was toppled at Ryerson University in Toronto on Sunday June 06, 2021. Photo by Chris Young/the Canadian Press

Ryerson University will be changing its name so that it no longer includes one of the architects of Canada’s residential school system—a move demanded by Indigenous students, advocates, and faculty members at the Toronto school for years.

According to the Eyeopener, Ryerson University’s student newspaper, the school’s board of governors officially accepted all 22 recommendations from a report by the Standing Strong (Mash Koh Wee Kah Pooh Win) Task Force, at a meeting Thursday. The task force was asked to reconcile the legacy of the university’s namesake, Egerton Ryerson.

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“Given that our namesake is increasingly recognized as a symbol of colonialism, our identity as an institution can no longer be disentangled from separate schools, segregation, the genocide of Indigenous Peoples and cultural erasure,” the task force report said.

It isn’t clear yet what Ryerson’s new name will be—the task force recommends the university speak with “community members and stakeholders” to do so.

“I believe this is a very fair and thorough document that charts direction for the future of our university that is very closely aligned with our values,” said Mohamed Lachemi, president and vice-chancellor of Ryerson University, at the board of governors meeting, according to the Eyeopener.  

Ryerson was a 19th century Ontario politician, minister, and educator who helped create Canada’s residential school system. He supported the creation of segregated school systems for Indigenous and non-Indigenous students and believed the former should be separated from their families and assimilated into Euro-Canadian society through working in so-called ‘industrial schools.’

Over 150,000 First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children are believed to have passed through the residential school system over the course of its roughly 115-year history. Malnutrition, disease, and abuse by school staff led to the deaths of thousands of children. 

So far this year, more than 1,000 unmarked graves have been confirmed by First Nations on or near residential schools sites in Canada, with many of them believed to have belonged to children. 

Truth and Reconciliation Commission chair Justice Murray Sinclair has said the number of kids who died as a result of attending residential schools could be in the 15,000 to 25,000 range; the TRC has confirmed the identities of 4,100 children who died attending the schools. 

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In May, the Eyeopener reported that the Yellowhead Institute, an Indigenous-led research centre based at the university, called on Ryerson community members to remove the word ‘Ryerson’ from their email signatures, CVs, and other letterhead in protest.

Demonstrators pulled down and beheaded a statue of Egerton Ryerson on the university’s campus in June after First Nations began finding the unmarked graves. The university’s administration promised not to replace the statue.

The other recommendations from the task force include recognizing the Ryerson’s full legacy, promoting faculty and staff who identify as Indigenous and Black, and planning healing ceremonies at the former site of Ryerson’s statue.

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