Home Great Return How time and a pandemic have changed Ryerson’s campus

How time and a pandemic have changed Ryerson’s campus

A photo essay documenting changes at the university ahead of the winter 2022 return to in-person classes and campus events

by Nadia Brophy
A student rides his bike along the newly paved and levelled Gould Street, opened to the public in September 2020 as part
of the Campus Core Revitalization project to create a safer, more engaging campus environment. (Nadia Brophy/OTR)

The following photos, taken on Nov. 9 and 10, 2021, are a tour of the Ryerson University campus in its pre-return state, beginning from the entrance at Gould Street, going toward the Student Campus Centre (SCC) and looping back to Gould Street in the evening. My intent was to show the new bits of culture and life that have been cropping up on campus as spaces prepare to be populated again — starting with the prominent art pieces that honour the Indigenous community, updated spaces for community engagement and ending with student activity that has made an early start before the full return to campus in winter 2022. 

RELATED: The great campus return?

Walking around the Ryerson University campus this fall is a very quiet endeavour, with small groups of students enjoying coffee at Balzac’s, studying in the Student Campus Centre or occupying the new and improved Gould Street. 

Despite the limited amount of activity, several spots on campus have been changed and updated ahead of the influx of students who will return full time next semester and to accommodate those who currently attend campus or simply wish to study in a familiar place. 

While the campus still largely remains the same as it was prior to the pandemic closure, there is an undeniable imprint of student protest and demands for the university to do better in its support of social change, including greater representation of Black, Indigenous and people of colour, accessibility and safety needs and climate justice. 

This past year, there have been several calls to action for the support and reconciliation for the Indigenous community at Ryerson, punctuated by the takedown of residential school architect Egerton Ryerson’s statue this summer and a push for the university to change its name. As a result of these events, students and visitors will notice several remnants of protest and solidarity for the Indigenous community and other marginalized groups, marked through art and imagery captured in this essay. Other visual statements on campus include a demand for climate justice, as Ryerson’s contribution to the fossil fuel industry has rallied students to push for divestment and greater sustainability at the school.

With this photo essay, I hoped to capture the calm before the big return, the changing landscape of the university as it prepares for it and a visual representation of the issues at the forefront of the Ryerson community’s mind.

At the university entrance at Gould Street and Nelson Mandela Walk sits the steel Ring, installed and created by Indigenous architecture firm Two Row Architect in September 2021. The piece was implemented in response to recommendations from the university’s 2018 Truth and Reconciliation Report and was built in collaboration with the Indigenous community at Ryerson. (Nadia Brophy/OTR)
A detail on the Ring in the shape of a turtle represents “truth”, one of the Seven Grandfather teachings of Anishinaabe culture indicated through seven animal symbols on the installation. The Ring and its traditional symbols, which are a guide for “cultural foundation, human conduct and survival,” were installed to celebrate and increase the visibility of Indigenous culture on campus. (Nadia Brophy/OTR)
High above the Ring is the work of Dainesha Nugent-Palache, a Toronto-based multidisciplinary artist and the National Gallery of Canada’s New Generation Photography Award winner. This piece, Jessica (2016), is part of Nugent-Palache’s work in exploring “stories of women, femininity and the Afro-Caribbean diaspora.” (Nadia Brophy/OTR)
Ottawa-based Inuk photographer Katherine Takpannie’s photograph Our Women and Girls are Sacred (2016) is installed next to Ryerson’s logo sign. Takpannie won the National Gallery of Canada’s 2020 New Generation Photography Award. Her work focuses on showcasing urban Inuit life through lifestyle scenes, portraiture and landscapes. (Nadia Brophy/OTR)

As several art pieces have been installed on Ryerson’s campus this year, the Ryerson Image Centre (RIC) also continues its goal of ensuring the community can “experience these remarkable exhibitions by renowned and emerging Canadian artists” as the galleries reopened this fall, said RIC director Paul Roth in an interview with Ryerson Today

Among the ongoing exhibitions is the work of Dana Claxton — a Hunkpapa Lakota photographer — which “confronts issues of colonialist appropriation and commodification through an exploration of the artist’s family and community in Great Plains, Sask.,” according to the RIC

“I think it’s really important to have art available to the public during this time because it gives you a reason to come look at art and enrich your life,” said Heather Rattray, a gallery attendant at the RIC. “I’ve been missing that for the last year and a half and it’s nice to relate to Dana, look at her work and expand my perspective as it transports me to a different place.” 

Claxton’s collage installation Woodmountain Moccasins 1 (2021) printed on a wall of the RIC main gallery. (Nadia Brophy/OTR)
Claxton’s Lasso (2018), measuring 182 x 304 centimetres and showcased via an LED firebox, lights up a back wall of the RIC main gallery. (Nadia Brophy/OTR)
Just steps away from the RIC and beside the former location of residential school architect Egerton Ryerson’s statue — taken down by Indigenous activists and allies in June — is the Toronto Normal School sign, with the word “normal” crossed out with black spray paint. The school was established by Egerton Ryerson in 1847. (Nadia Brophy/OTR)
Directly across from the sign and steps from the Student Campus Centre are two words of protest written on a street light in solidarity with the Indigenous community’s fight for land rights in Canada. “Land Back” is the titular term for an ongoing movement in North America working to get stolen land and decision-making power returned to its rightful Indigenous groups. (Nadia Brophy/OTR)
A sign in the SCC created by Divest Ryerson, a campaign established to call on the school to “freeze all new investments in the fossil fuel industry,” covers a 2010 promise signed by the university and its student unions to work toward an environmentally friendly campus. Read more about the state of sustainability at Ryerson. (Nadia Brophy/OTR)
An employee at Oakham Café stands at the cash register of the newly redesigned seating area and popular study space for Ryerson students, located in the SCC. The café received a modern redesign during the pandemic, with new ceramic tiles and grab-and-go counters to “make the space more efficient.” The redesign also unearthed the original brick fireplace (right) which was previously behind drywall. (Nadia Brophy/OTR)
Sharing similar environmental sentiments as the Divest Ryerson sign outside, a water bottle refill station at Oakham Café is decorated with facts about water consumption, the impact of water waste on the environment and support of water as a human right. (Nadia Brophy/OTR)

Among newly renovated and improved spaces on campus is the Recreation and Athletic Centre (RAC), which houses a brand new functional training room for multi-purpose workouts including rope training, rowers, pull-up stations and more. The room also features brand new artwork.

An overview of one section of the new functional training room, located in the Recreation and Athletic Centre. (Nadia Brophy/OTR)

The functional training room is home to several types of equipment for a broad range of workouts, with many “based on strength more so than weight training,” said Thamarai Govender, a facility employee at the RAC. 

Govender said that throughout the pandemic up to now, the RAC can accommodate up to 70 people, but she has noticed that not many people have shown up to use the facilities. Spaces like the functional training room are an effort to “bring something new to the building” and encourage student engagement this coming semester, she explained. 

Renovations have also been made to several classrooms across campus that were in need of upgrades to support student accessibility, active learning and technological function. The Teaching and Learning Space Working Group was established in 2018 to better adapt Ryerson spaces to meet evolving student needs. 

In 2020, Room 501 in the Victoria Building was renovated from a tiered-seating classroom to a flat layout with movable furniture for greater accessibility. The room also includes new flooring and improvements to ensure all lights are at the same colour temperature. 

Victoria Building Room 501, prior to the classroom refresh project renovation. (Courtesy of the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching)
Victoria Building Room 501, after renovations were made to ensure the entire classroom was accessible to students, lighting was improved for better engagement and technology was updated. (Nadia Brophy/OTR)

“​​It’s really great to have this working group because there’s someone that’s looking at classrooms and making sure that they grow with the times and can be adapted to new teaching styles,” said Michelle Schwartz, an educational developer for the Ryerson Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching and a member of the working group. 

While the classroom refresh project has existed for three years, Schwartz explained that the group acknowledged a need to ensure learning spaces were well-suited to student needs ahead of the winter 2022 reopening. 

“[We] really felt that what [we] wanted was that when people came back to campus, it would look different, it would look new and people would feel good about being there,” she said. 

For some students, the return to campus has started early. Two masked students playing ping-pong are the only ones to occupy the ground floor of the SCC on a quiet Wednesday afternoon. (Nadia Brophy/OTR)
A lone student works in the Catalyst learning space in the Rogers Communications Centre (RCC) on campus. (Nadia Brophy/ OTR)
Students in the RCC stop by the School of Journalism’s Healthy Harvest event on Nov. 10, featuring a table of healthy snacks and student resources including notebooks and pens. (Nadia Brophy/OTR)

Michael Turco, the equity and inclusion adviser for the School of Journalism and a host of Healthy Harvest, explained that the school is still “eager to deliver a positive on-campus experience, even if it’s scaled down and slightly different” for the students that are at Ryerson right now. 

“If we’re here, there’s no reason why we can’t congregate at a safe distance and eat individually packaged food,” said Turco. “It’s just nice to have a bit of community building and good testing grounds for some of the things we’ll want to do in the coming term.” 

As students leave campus in the evenings, their pathway is lit by new lights along Gould Street, implemented as part of the Campus Core Revitalization project to address safety concerns in student travel across campus. (Nadia Brophy/OTR)

“We are looking forward to an increase of activity on campus, with students finding more service and program areas and offices open, with more people ready to greet them,” said Ryerson president Mohamed Lachemi in an email statement to On The Record

READ MORE:

Nadia Brophy

You may also like