Should the Ryerson statue be removed? School to examine connection to controversial namesake

By News staff

What’s in a name?

When that name is Egerton Ryerson, the answer is complicated.

Ryerson was a Methodist Minister, educator and politician in the 1800s.

He’s also considered the architect of the residential school system that saw 150,000 Indigenous children removed from their communities and stripped of their culture.

It’s that contentious link that’s prompted Ryerson University to examine and reconsider its association with the Ryerson name, and the controversial statue of Egerton Ryerson that stands on its downtown Toronto campus.

Earlier this week Ryerson President and Vice-Chancellor, Mohamed Lachemi, announced the creation of a task force to examine Egerton Ryerson’s history and relationship to the university.

In 2018, the school installed a plaque next to Ryerson’s statue, contextualizing his role in the creation of the residential school system.

In a release Wednesday, Lachemi called that “just one step in the university’s journey toward reconciliation,” and committed to a deeper examination.

The newly-created task force will:

  • Conduct broad, open, and transparent consultations to gather feedback from students, faculty, staff, alumni, partners, and others about what the university can do to reconcile the history of Egerton Ryerson;
  • Examine and more fully understand Egerton Ryerson’s relationship with Indigenous Peoples, education, residential schools and how that aligns with Ryerson University’s values and mission;
  • Examine how other universities have dealt with the challenges of monuments and statues;
  • Develop principles to guide the recommended actions that Ryerson could take to respond to Egerton Ryerson’s legacy and the findings of the consultations; and
  • Submit a final report with recommended actions regarding the statue and other elements of Egerton Ryerson’s history.


In June, recent Ryerson graduate Maaz Khan started a petition to have the statue removed. It has since been signed by nearly 10,000 people.

“We’re celebrating a person who stood for everything we stand against now,” Khan told Ryerson newspaper The Eyeopener.

It’s not the first time the school has been pressured to remove the statue.

In 2017, members of the Ryerson Student union demanded the removal of the statue, and that Ryerson changes its name.

The Ryerson statue, and statues of other historical figures both in Canada and the United States, have recently been targeted by protesters.

In July, Toronto police charged three people with mischief and conspiracy to commit a summary offence after pink paint was splashed on the Ryerson statue, along with statues of John A. Macdonald and King Edward VII.

Community activist and core-member of Black Lives Matter Toronto, Marcus Ware, defended the vandalism, saying the statues are symbols of racism and colonialism.

“The biggest symbols of racism and colonialism that we need to tear down in our society is the police and the prison system,” Ware added. “If we’re going to start with a monument, lets tear that down. Defund, disarm dismantle abolish.”

In late August, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was “profoundly disappointed” after vandals in Montreal toppled and beheaded a statue of John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister.

Activists in Toronto have also taken to erecting plaques, which look very similar to the originals placed by Heritage Toronto, telling the story of the racism and slavery in the city.

With files from The Canadian Press

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