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Statue of Egerton Ryerson ‘will not be restored or replaced’ after it was toppled at Toronto rally

WARNING: This story contains details some readers may find distressing.

The statue of Egerton Ryerson that stood outside the university that bears his name “will not be restored or replaced,” the school’s president said Monday, after it was toppled following a demonstration in Toronto.

There had been growing calls in recent years from staff and students for the statue of Ryerson, considered one of the primary architects of Canada’s residential school system, to be removed from the university’s downtown campus. 

Instead, the statue was brought down Sunday evening after a rally held in response to the preliminary discovery of the remains of as many as 215 Indigenous children buried on the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.

A video posted to Twitter shows what appears to be a rope tied to the figure and people cheering as it comes tumbling down. CBC News has not verified the contents of the video or confirmed who filmed it.

Pictures from the scene show that after the statue was toppled, the head was removed. 

ryerson statue toppled
Demonstrators stand on the head from a statue of Egerton Ryerson after it was toppled on Jun. 6, 2021. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

In a statement issued this morning, Ryerson University President Mohamed Lachemi said that the statue “will not be restored or replaced.”

The future of the statue was being considered by a task force whose mandate includes “consideration of the university’s name, responding to the legacy of Egerton Ryerson, and other elements of commemoration on campus,” Lachemi said.

“I ask our community to respect their work and to engage with them as we should engage with all matters at our university — through dialogue, debate and the exchange of ideas.”

According to Lachemi, more than 1,000 people took part in the afternoon protest that began at Queen’s Park and ended on Gould Street. 

“About an hour after the last of the people left, a truck arrived on Gould Street and proceeded to pull down the statue of Egerton Ryerson. We are relieved that no one was injured in the process,” he said.

Toronto police say they are aware of the incident and will investigate.

‘It’s a little bit of justice’

Craig St. Denis, who was at the campus where crowds gathered after the statue came down, said its toppling “marks the beginning of healing for an entire nation.

“It’s important this statue has come down so we can raise awareness to what has been going on since the 1800s and the incorporation of the residential school system,” said St. Denis, a Cree whose grandfather was in the residential school system.

ryerson statue toppled
Demonstrators strike the head of a toppled statue of Egerton Ryerson, one of the architects of Canada’s residential school system, on Sunday evening. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Dishanie Fernando, a student at Sheridan College in Oakville, west of Toronto, said the statue should have come down a long time ago. 

“The statue represents racism, the statue represent oppression. It should have been taken down a long time ago voluntarily by the Ryerson University. However, that did not happen.”

“It’s a little bit of justice I suppose for the Indigenous people, but not enough. It’s just the beginning,” Fernando said.

Earlier Sunday, hundreds of people rallied in Toronto in honour of the 215 children whose remains are believed to be buried at the Kamloops Indian Residential school site.

In a tweet before the demonstration, Toronto police urged calm. 

Last week, the statue was vandalized and splattered with red paint.

Following the Kamloops discovery, Indigenous students at the university called on fellow students, faculty and alumni to stop using the name Ryerson in their email signatures, correspondence and on their resumes, urging them instead to call the school X University.

In a statement posted to Twitter before the statue was felled, the university said: “We share in the grief and sorrow of our community at the discovery of the remains of 215 Indigenous children near Kamloops, and acknowledge that further and ongoing reconciliation is of vital importance.”

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

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