Ryerson University is no more.
The institution in downtown Toronto named after a man increasingly tarnished by his role in creating Canada’s residential school system will find itself a new name, possibly in time for the 2022 academic year.
That is one of 22 steps its board of governors agreed to take on Thursday, part of a reckoning with the country’s colonial past that has also seen the city agree to rename Dundas Street, which divides parts of the downtown campus.
“We recognize that a name change alone will not erase the systemic barriers and inequities that Indigenous and Black community members face within the institution,” Mash Koh Wee Kah Pooh Win (Standing Strong) Task Force co-chairs elder Joanne Dallaire and Catherine Ellis wrote in their report, which followed 10 months of community engagement, research, and reflection.
“The university must also actively address the legacy of Egerton Ryerson and other colonial figures through meaningful financial, educational, and cultural initiatives, as well as principles and practices for commemoration that uphold our institutional values,” it said.
Mohamed Lachemi, the university’s president and vice-chancellor, said it would heed the call to develop an action plan by Jan. 31, 2022, and the rest of the report’s recommendations in an “equitable, transparent, inclusive and timely manner.”
The residential school system, deemed a cultural genocide by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, forcibly removed Indigenous children from their families and sent them to schools run by Christian churches where they were often punished for speaking their own language. Many students also experienced physical, sexual and psychological abuse at the hands of school staff or other students.
The contention around keeping the name grew during the consultation period when several First Nations discovered the remains of hundreds of children buried on or near former residential schools.
Egerton Ryerson is recognized as a key influence in the design of the system, with his expert advice sought in the mid-1800s and referenced after his death 50 years later in an official publication.
“For as long as the university is named after Egerton Ryerson, our narrative will be centred on his legacy,” the report said, noting the institution has had four names since its founding in 1948 when the Ryerson name was thought to deliver credibility.
A statue of the man was felled earlier this summer and its head removed and dipped in Lake Ontario, before it later showed up on a pike at 1492 Land Back Lane in Caledonia, Ont.
“For as long as the university is named after Egerton Ryerson, our narrative will be centred on his legacy,” reads the Mash Koh Wee Kah Pooh Win (Standing Strong) Task Force report. #TRC #reconciliation #ResidentialSchools
Morgan Sharp / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer