top of page
  • Writer's pictureFatima Learn

Offensive Statues And Art

A statue of Egerton Ryerson was toppled by demonstrators in honour of the 215 children whose remains were discovered at a former residential school site in Kamloops, B.C.

E. Ryerson vocally backed ideas that segregated natives, forced western ideologies upon them, and deemed their worth no more than an agricultural asset. It is offensive and shameful that there is a monument to revere Ryerson. He is a prominent contributor to the design of the Canadian residential school system that has failed in our history.

The statue located at the university named after him stood off of Gould Street in the heart of the downtown Toronto campus. I have sat in my car across from that statue while waiting for my daughter, now a second year student at RU. The last time I was there, I could see the graffiti stains protesting its presence, suggesting there was blood on his hands. Seeing this prompted me to take a photo to recognize the significant political statement on something that needs awareness. Please do not mistaken this comment as me being an advocate for vandalism.

Someone Or Something Needs To Be Accountable

When the children’s remains were discovered in BC, I believe what was done to the statue was no longer about freedom of expression or protest. This was a whole other discovery that needed to be addressed and with that someone or something had to be held accountable - so to speak. This statue was doused in paint, smashed, dismantled, destroyed and parts were thrown into the Toronto Harbour. This artwork is now gone forever, not only is the original artist’s work gone, but the power behind the minimalist blood stained hand is also gone.

The discovery of the 215 children was absolutely heart breaking. It is disturbing as a Canadian to be faced with such a disgusting history, and reminds us of the tough truth that our Indigenous communities have been treated so unfairly on a land founded by them. The death of George Floyd comes to mind as it sparked outrage and movements in the same way that this discovery has. It is a shame that our most powerful reminders of inequality come out of the acts of injustice itself. I believe that art can be just as powerful.

The Plaque

The statue, before ever being vandalized, had a plaque that was installed in 2018 (almost 130 years after the statue was erected). The plaque read: “This plaque serves as a reminder of Ryerson University's commitment to moving forward in the spirit of truth and reconciliation. Egerton Ryerson is widely known for his contributions to Ontario's public educational system. As Chief Superintendent of Education, Ryerson's recommendations were instrumental in the design and implementation of the Indian Residential School System. In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission concluded that the assimilation amounted to cultural genocide”. This plaque was added as an attempt to acknowledge his wrong doings, while also glorifying his accomplishments.

My Opinion

Seeing as the plaque was not an effective apology/acknowledgement in the slightest, I believe the red paint representing blood on the hands of Egerton Ryerson sent a powerful message of acknowledgement. Now that the statue has been removed, there is no symbol of realization or growth- there is nothing but an empty space. I can’t help but feel that it would have been more impactful to keep the statue standing with the blood stained hands.

Art is an important part of history, it marks ALL events, even the wrong ones. The vandalism, in that instance, felt just as it represented what people thought of the events, how society has evolved and realized these wrongs. Another option that needs to be considered is relocating it to a museum or appropriate space, where proper context and acknowledgement can be given - A "Museum of Rejects". In my opinion, to destroy and remove it completely is simply not productive.

First Image - First part is a picture I took at the end of a school year 2021. The second part is when protest took place at the statue after the devastating news of the children in BC.

Last Image -“Madonna and Child”. This is my acrylic painted version of a statue that is replicated all over the world with slight variations. Also known as “Mother and Child”


bottom of page