Last week's topics touched on the pioneering work of Egerton Ryerson who served as the Chief Superintendent of Education for Upper Canada for 32 years (1844 - 1876). Ryerson's educational leadership in 19th century Ontario was so influential that he has been called the "father of public education in Ontario."
However, Ryerson also advocated for the creation of the residential school system for Indigenous children which was a topic focus
"While advocating for free and compulsory education, Ryerson supported different systems for Indigenous and non-Indigenous students. He supported the system of educating Indigenous students separately and converting them to Christianity, in order to assimilate them into Euro-Canadian culture…In 1847, the Indian Affairs Branch of the government asked Ryerson to write a report (♾
) on the best methods of operating residential schools…In this report, Ryerson recommended that Indigenous students continue to be educated in separate, agriculturally based boarding schools with religious and English language instruction…He proposed that the schools be run by religious organizations and overseen by the government…Ryerson did not invent the idea of residential schools. But his recommendations influenced the development of Canada’s devastating residential school system." (Semple, N. (2017). Egerton Ryerson. The Canadian Encyclopedia. URL: https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/egerton-ryerson)
During his lifetime and for many decades afterwards, Ryerson's legacy was largely a positive one. However, in recent years, Ryerson's support for the creation of the residential school system for Indigenous children has led many to reassess and problematize his contributions to education in Canada. (♾
How are we to square the two legacies of Egerton Ryerson? Should his undeniable contributions to the development of public education in Ontario be lauded or should his advice to establish the residential school system negate such accolades?
Below is a 2019 newspaper article by Gord Sly, a retired history teacher/department head and volunteer/president of the Frontenac County Schools Museum, which chronicles Ryerson's impact on Ontario education.
For the purposes of this course, the article has been divided into three parts. Part 1 presents an overwhelming positive view of Ryerson's contributions. (This is essentially how Ryerson's contributions were viewed during his lifetime and in the decades which followed.) Part 2 problematizes Ryerson's influence on Canadian education, focusing both on his recommendations to establish the residential school system, as well as his views on girls' education and segregated schools. In Part 3, the author concludes with his own views.