Egerton Ryerson Statue Toppled at Protest Over Mass Grave of 215 Indigenous Children

A statue of a man who was one of the pioneers of a school system that looked to remove indigenous culture from Canada has been toppled at a university in Toronto. It occurred shortly after a protest over the recent discovery of a mass grave of indigenous children there.

The Egerton Ryerson statue at Ryerson University was toppled at around 7 p.m. on Sunday evening following the protests. Ryerson is regarded as a pioneer of Canada's controversial residential school system first introduced in 1876, where free schools for indigenous people were formed. These schools were designed to remove indigenous culture from these children, so they could assimilate into the Westernized dominant Canadian culture. The schools operated all the way up to 1996, and it is estimated that more than 150,000 indigenous children attended them.

The Ryerson statue had already been vandalized earlier in the week after the suspected remains of 215 indigenous children were found. The discovery — which prompted a national outrage — has led to greater scrutiny of figures like Ryerson and their role in Canadian history.

Social media posts from the protest on Sunday show the statue being pulled down from its pedestal while the crowd cheered around it. The statue had already been daubed in red paint with slogans including "dig them up" and "land back", referencing his links to Canada's treatment of its indigenous population.

It is estimated that at least 6,000 indigenous children died in these schools, after being abused. Justice Murray Sinclair, the chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, has said that the number is just an estimate and is likely to be much higher. In the Truth and Reconciliation report, he has described the residential school system as "cultural genocide."

A statement from the university's president Mohamed Lachemi stated that from 2:00 p.m. to nearly 6:00 p.m. on Sunday, more than 1,000 people took part in the demonstration and there were no incidents to report. The statue was then pulled down about an hour after the last people left, Lachemi said.

The president expressed his solidarity with the protesters and said that the statue would not be restored or replaced.

"Our community holds diverse views on many topics, including the name of our institution," the statement read. "At our core, this is what universities are all about: we are a place where difficult subjects are discussed, attitudes are challenged, and alternatives are suggested and considered. This often involves demonstrations and civil protest - and the university will always make space for this. I believe the way to move forward on sensitive, contentious topics is by being consultative, inclusive, respectful, and thorough.

"The statue will not be restored or replaced. The question of the statue was only one of many being considered by the Standing Strong (Mash Koh Wee Kah Pooh Win) 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. Their work is now more important than ever. 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."

Canada university statue toppled
A man waving the Mohawk Warrior Society flag stands on the pedestal of the toppled statue of Egerton Ryerson, one of the architects of indigenous boarding school system, while another man hits it with a hammer in Toronto on June 6, 2021. The statue was brought down after a protest over the recent discovery of a mass grave on indigenous children at a university there. Olivier Monnier/Getty