Toronto university changes name amid controversy over Canadian educator's legacy

·4 min read
A statue of Egerton Ryerson, one of the architects of the residential school system, lies on the grounds of the university after being toppled in June of 2021.  (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)
A statue of Egerton Ryerson, one of the architects of the residential school system, lies on the grounds of the university after being toppled in June of 2021. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)

The former Ryerson University has officially changed its name to Toronto Metropolitan University.

The school's board of directors voted last August to change the school's name over concerns about the man the institution had been named for and his links to Canada's residential schools.

Egerton Ryerson is considered one of the primary architects of the residential school system and, in recent years, staff and students had been calling for the university to change its name.

"I cannot think of a better name than Toronto Metropolitan University," said President and Vice-Chancellor Mohamed Lachemi, in a statement. "Metropolitan is a reflection of who we have always been — an urban institution dedicated to excellence, innovation, and inclusion and who we aim to be — a place where all feel welcome, seen, represented and celebrated."

The change was made as part of 22 recommendations made by the university's Standing Strong (Mash Koh Wee Kah Pooh Win) Task Force.

Truth and Reconciliation was a key priority for the school in considering a new name, the school said in a news release, adding that officials are committed to implementing all of the task force's recommendations.

Evan Mitsui/CBC
Evan Mitsui/CBC

The group's 22 recommendations included renaming the institution, sharing materials to recognize the legacy of Egerton Ryerson and providing more opportunities to learn about Indigenous history and Indigenous-colonial relations.

"This is a very important moment in our university's history as we move forward with a name that better reflects our values and can take us into the future," said Lachemi.

The statue of Egerton Ryerson that once stood on the school's campus was toppled last year, amid the discovery of unmarked grave sites on the grounds of former residential schools.

The day after, hundreds of professors and other faculty members at the school signed a letter demanding that the university change its name.

The university also has a new logo, as displayed on its Twitter account: a blue block containing the capital letters "TM" connected to a yellow block containing the capital letter "U."

In an interview with CBC News, Lachemi said the name is about unity and the word "metropolitan" is fitting for a downtown university.

"Metropolitan also defines our university aspirations to offer new opportunities for collaboration, for research, creative activities, and for building connection and community," he said.

The name change is not about erasing history, he added, saying it's "the start of a new chapter ... as we move forward with a name that better reflects those values and aspirations."

Lachemi also explained the committee didn't choose an Indigenous name because the university needs a name "that will unite all of us and not really represent a small group of people or communities within our community."

The name change requires an amendment to the University Act that has to be passed by the Ontario legislature. Lachemi said the university will wait until after the election before starting that process.

Name change was necessary, Indigenous student says

Indigenous social work student Sarah Dennis, a member of the Nipissing First Nation near Sudbury, Ont., was part of a group that lobbied for the change and wrote an open letter to the president asking for it.

"I'm just so grateful for all of the all of the people at Ryerson who took on doing this work," said Dennis, who was raised in Toronto and lives in the city.

CBC
CBC

She referred to the name change as "a great way to be an innovative and leading educational institution in Canada," and she commended all those who pushed for it, "especially for all of the Indigenous and the Indigenous faculty and staff.

"They really just made it happen," she said.

The statue of Ryerson on campus was a "bone of contention" every time she walked by it, Dennis said. Paying tribute to "false idols" is not part of Indigenous culture, she added.

"It wasn't really great having that statue there and having a tribute to a person who represents colonialism, epistemic violence and all of the things that still contribute to systemic racism," she said.

Dennis said she was considering handing back her degree when she graduated and telling the university to give it to her when it changed its name from Ryerson, "because I don't want the name on my degree."

But she said: "I'm really happy that it's happened already."

"It shows that TMU is willing to walk their talk. And that just makes them more accountable and appealing to future Indigenous students."

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting