Ryerson of Upper Canada, by Clara Thomas, was published in 1969. It was one of the last publications printed and bound by the The Ryerson Press before the company was sold to McGraw-Hill in 1970. It remains a fitting tribute to the man who started the publishing entity that bore his name for over 140 years.
Dr. Thomas, 1919-2013, was Professor of English at York University from 1961 until her retirement in 1984. She began her teaching career at Glendon College and moved to the Keele Street campus in 1966. Clara Thomas was a firm supporter of CanLit. In fact, The Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections are named in her honour. Her efforts were also instrumental in securing the papers and letters of Margaret Laurence at York. Not only a distinguished author, Dr. Thomas was also a Fellow of the Royal Society and received honorary Degrees from York, Trent and Brock Universities. Clara Thomas also wrote Canadian Novelists, 1920-45, and Margaret Laurence, a biographical and critical monograph.
Ryerson of Upper Canada, edited by Frank Flemington, is a well-researched account of the early life of Egerton Ryerson as itinerant saddle-bag preacher, editor of the Christian Guardian, adversary of Bishop John Strachan and the British Establishment of the day and eventually Supervisor of Education for Upper Canada in 1844.
This biography depicts a time of great change and upheaval in the land — a time that was ripe for a person with great leadership qualities, strength of conviction, and the ability to adapt to the demands of a growing population, despite dissenting voices.
Ryerson was a preacher, teacher and a politician. He did not turn away from controversy. Everything he set out to accomplish was performed with the greater good of the population in mind. He came to know these people as a young preacher in the Yonge Street and York connexion. His editorials in the Christian Guardian established him, in the eyes of his Methodist brethren, as the one person who could stand up to the established Anglican bishop, John Strachan, for example, and argue for freedom of religious expression.
Ryerson’s many trips to England and Europe in the mid 1800s to study and report on the various educational models employed there prepared him for reform of the education system in Upper Canada. The passing of the School Bills in 1846 and 1871 allowed for the establishment of twenty-one School Districts as well as proper teacher training facilities and defined responsibilities for both student and teacher alike. Ryerson’s design for the one-room schoolhouse was adopted and became the model for Upper Canada and ;after the entire Province of Ontario. In his message to the people of these School Districts, Ryerson said: “It becomes us especially to leave to those who are growing up around us, and those who succeed us, the legacy — the priceless legacy of institutions and means of education suitable to the wants, competition and progress of their age and Country.”
The principles of education Ryerson espoused in 1846 have lasted for over 150 years.
Sadly, while Ryerson espoused free and compulsory education, this did not extend to the aboriginal peoples of Canada. This led ultimately to the establishment of the Residential School System in this country with devastating results that are still felt to this day.