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Education for All!

For the week of Monday March 18, 2013

On March 24, 1803, the father of education in Ontario, Aldolphus Egerton Ryerson, was born. He would completely reorganize the province's education system and advocate access to school for all!

Rev. Egerton Ryerson, D.D., L.L.D.
© Library and Archives Canada / Acc. No. 1939-176
Coming from a wealthy family, Ryerson was able to obtain a formal education by attending school. Most 19th-century youth, however, couldn't afford to go to school and were instead educated by their families or through apprenticeships within the community. After graduating in 1824, Ryerson went to Hamilton to further his education. However, he became severely ill and had to put his studies on hold. While recovering, Ryerson became convinced that he had been spared from death to serve as a Methodist minister. He immediately joined the ministry and was ordained in September 1827.

Afterwards, Ryerson ministered in several parishes and edited the Methodist newspaper, the Christian Guardian. Meanwhile, his interest in education grew and he often used the newspaper to express his theories for improving schooling in Canada. In 1844, Ryerson was appointed Superintendent for Canada West (Ontario). Finally he could put his ideas into action!

Statue of Egerton Ryerson in front of the Education Department Building in Toronto [ca. 1890]
© Archives of Ontario / F 1125-1-0-0-182

Ryerson's views on education were influenced by a variety of factors including his Methodist theology and his travels abroad where he studied other schooling systems. He believed that education must be Christian, universal, and managed by the government. From drafting school legislation to writing textbooks, Ryerson actively involved himself in all aspects of the educational system!

Retiring in 1875, Ryerson had achieved a great deal for Ontario education. He had created universal access to elementary education, promoted quality improvements in school programs, and established an effective administrative structure for the school system. His success culminated in the Schools Act of 1871 which created tuition-free elementary school and made school attendance compulsory.

Ryerson died on February 19, 1882, but his work made the Ontario school system the educational model for most provinces. Reverand Adolphus Egerton Ryerson was designated a national historic person in 1934.

To read more about the development of elementary and high school education in Canada, please view the This Week in History archives: "A National Voice of Parents in Education", Canada's First Parents' Association, and Saskatchewan's First Teacher.   

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