WARNING: This story contains details some readers may find distressing.
The statue of Egerton Ryerson, considered one of the architects of the residential school system in Canada, was toppled and vandalized Sunday evening following a demonstration in downtown Toronto.
The act occurred at Ryerson University after an afternoon demonstration that was held in response to an announcement by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation on May 27 that preliminary findings from a survey conducted by a specialist in ground-penetrating radar indicated the remains of what could be 215 children buried on the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.
Since then, there have been calls from Indigenous professors and students to change the university’s name and remove Ryerson’s statue from campus for his role in the creation of Canada’s residential school system.
It is not known how the statue was brought down, but a video posted to Twitter shows what appears to be a rope tied to the figure and people cheering as it comes tumbling down. CBC News has not verified the contents of the video or confirmed who filmed it.
Toronto police say they are aware of the incident and will investigate.
Today was a great day!!! <a href=”https://t.co/DuR6dGc0jn”>pic.twitter.com/DuR6dGc0jn</a>
‘It’s a little bit of justice’
Craig St. Denis, who was at the campus where crowds gathered after the statue came down, said its toppling “marks the beginning of healing for an entire nation.
“It’s important this statue has come down so we can raise awareness to what has been going on since the 1800s and the incorporation of the residential school system,” said St. Denis, a Cree whose grandfather was in the residential school system.
Dishanie Fernando, a student at Sheridan College in Oakville, west of Toronto, said the statue should have come down a long time ago.
“The statue represents racism, the statue represent oppression. It should have been taken down a long time ago voluntarily by the Ryerson University. However, that did not happen.”
“It’s a little bit of justice I suppose for the Indigenous people, but not enough. It’s just the beginning,” Fernando said.
The university did not immediately respond to requests for comment by CBC News Sunday evening.
Earlier Sunday, hundreds of people rallied in Toronto in honour of the 215 children whose remains are believed to be buried at the Kamloops Indian Residential school site.
In a tweet before the demonstration, Toronto police urged calm.
At the afternoon rally, people listened to speakers at the provincial legislature, then walked east to the university.
Last week, the statue was vandalized and splattered with red paint.
Following the Kamloops discovery, Indigenous students at the university called on fellow students, faculty and alumni to stop using the name Ryerson in their email signatures, correspondence and on their resumes, urging them instead to call the school X University.
In a statement posted to Twitter before the statue was felled, the university said: “We share in the grief and sorrow of our community at the discovery of the remains of 215 Indigenous children near Kamloops, and acknowledge that further and ongoing reconciliation is of vital importance.”
It also said a task force created to examine Ryerson’s legacy and collect feedback from community members is committed to delivering a final report, including recommendations regarding the statue and name of the university, before the fall semester.
Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.