exploring 1850s

Egerton Ryerson Bust

Egerton Ryerson believed that education should be for all.

Ryerson began a radical reform of Canada’s education system with the notion of offering education to all children rather than exclusively to the privileged. Following in the footsteps of other education systems and government agencies, Ryerson was aiming to prepare children to meet the perceived needs of the society in which they lived.  As you explore this Timeline and collection of documents and images, it is important to inquire as to what this statement means in an 1840’s context. In an increasingly urban and industrial economy, the government and employers required a higher level of education than what was required in a totally rural and agrarian economy. As well, social issues in the growing urban area of Toronto required that some institution deal with children caught in the circumstances of poverty, neglect and crime. Education systems and other government agencies try to anticipate the needs of society but often the consequences are much different than what is expected or desired.

Egerton Ryerson is often cited as the founder of Canada’s public education system, yet many are unaware of his role in Canadian society. His commitment to educational reform and its impact in the area of societal influence, religious tolerance, art appreciation, and technological advancement is seen in the continued pursuit of improvements by modern-day educators and administrators.

Egerton Ryerson was a prominent 19th Century Canadian who played an influential role in many areas of political life and many of his attitudes, particularly as they applied to the Indigenous Peoples of Canada, did contribute to the establishment of what became known as the Residential School System. This system had an extremely negative impact on Indigenous Peoples in Canada which continues to this day. As you go through the Timeline and explore the various social issues that the education system tried to address, be aware that a historian should understand the nature of continuity and change. The timeline has the appearance of progress from one decade to the next: this should not be accepted as fact. Rather, the viewer should recognize that, as some social issues move forward or improve, many other issues continue to exist although their nature and form might appear to be different.

Currently, the curriculum pertaining to History, requires students to develop their historical thinking skills as well as their ability to apply the historical inquiry process, through gathering, interpreting, and analysing historical evidence and information from a variety of primary and secondary sources in order to investigate and reach conclusions about historical issues, developments, and events. Above all else, as you tour this exhibit, apply these historical thinking and inquiry skills in order to draw your own conclusions.