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What’s in a name?

by Patrick Swadden

Ryerson, reconciliation, and the challenges of replacing names and monuments

This story is part of Monumental Challenges, a series looking at Ryerson, reconciliation, and the issues surrounding replacing names and monuments.

Infographic produced by Cole Brocksom/Ryersonian

On Sept. 2, Ryerson president Mohamed Lachemi announced a presidential task force to examine Egerton Ryerson’s history, particularly his involvement in the creation of the residential school system. Ryerson is the university’s namesake and founded Ontario’s education system. However, he was also an architect of a system that committed cultural genocide against Indigenous peoples in Canada.  The intergenerational trauma caused by the residential school system continues to deeply affect Indigenous communities to this day. 

Many in the community are calling for the statue of Ryerson on Gould Street to be removed, while others believe this is not enough and Ryerson University should change its name entirely. Despite the installation of a plaque next to Ryerson’s statue acknowledging his role in the residential school system, the monument was defaced multiple times this summer.

In this editorial feature, our diligent reporters at the Ryersonian take a multi-pronged approach to this issue. We examine the names of local institutions, such as Dundas Street and Vaughan Secondary School—both named after controversial historical figures—before turning to sports teams that have recently been rebranded or should soon go through name changes.

We examine other universities that have undergone rebranding and the financial undertaking that entails. We discuss how post-secondary institutions can better educate students about the history of residential schools in our education system. Our video production team takes you through a visual journey of Egerton Ryerson’s history. Finally, we investigate the historical meaning of statues, and whether a more appropriate substitute exists for the space overlooking Gould Street.

We consider these issues as they relate to movements in the Ryerson community and beyond. Under the weight of social unrest and protests around the world, statues are being toppled, monuments defaced, and long-held controversial names of streets, sports teams and institutions are being removed. 

The work of the task force has just begun, but we want you—our reader—to be informed and ready to engage with the decision-making process. 

Patrick Swadden, editor-in-chief 

Toronto and Ryerson University are in the “Dish With One Spoon Territory.” The Dish With One Spoon is a treaty between the Anishinaabe, Mississaugas and Haudenosaunee that bound them to share the territory and protect the land. Subsequent Indigenous Nations and peoples, Europeans and all newcomers, have been invited into this treaty in the spirit of peace, friendship and respect.

This article may have been created with the use of AI software such as Google Docs, Grammarly, and/or Otter.ai for transcription.

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