In the wake of recent events in Canada regarding the discovery of a mass grave at a former residential school, Egerton Ryerson’s statue was torn down on the Ryerson University campus in Toronto, and the university is considering a new name.
We saw this same type response during the swell in the Black Lives Matter movement last year.
Some folks will say that this is about cancel culture.
I say its about changing the narrative.
Changing the narrative is not the same as removing history.
We need to learn about (and from) history.
But sadly we are usually taught one version – not the fuller version, not the versions that show impact, or that challenge the dominant narrative. This has to change.
Part of changing the narrative is acknowledging trauma and being conscious of what statues and names etc. mean and do for those who have been negatively impacted by the people we are showcasing in this way. Today I’m referencing the impact on Indigenous People, but we could apply this to any group that has a history of being colonized and oppressed.
Egerton Ryerson was the chief superintendent of education and his recommendations were instrumental in the creation of the residential schools in Canada. Last year we saw statues of Confederate Army Generals and former slave owners toppled re: BLM.
A New Narrative
Taking down statues and changing names of buildings etc. is part of changing the narrative of our country’s history. It means we no longer showcase and celebrate oppressive histories and practises (and the people who have contributed to these). What this does is acknowledging the trauma and pain that was caused (and that the statue and names continue to cause – by their presence and by the way they are held up in society). And makes room for a broader understanding of our history, and for the showcasing of people we may not have heard much about.
We don’t forget, we just change what and who we highlight to make what we are taking in more balanced, more respectful, more acknowledging of multiple narratives. Plus, we learn about history – the fuller version.
We need to learn about history. Ryerson (for example) needs a place in our history education – but a place that includes the broader context of the deep and damaging impact of his recommendations on Indigenous People in Canada. We can learn from history when we know the full(er) story.
We have to learn about history – and we have to be conscious of who’s history we continue to tell, how we tell it, and at what cost.
What will replace the statue of Egerton Ryerson on the university campus?
My hope is for something that will help us to learn and grow as people and as communities. That will help us to heal. And bring us together.