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Egerton Ryerson

(1803—1882) educationist and Methodist minister in Canada


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(1803–82). Born into a Loyalist family in Upper Canada and raised by a deeply religious mother, Ryerson was one of five brothers who became Methodist preachers. Gradually, as the author of letters and pamphlets defending Methodism and especially as editor of the widely read and influential Methodist newspaper, the Christian Guardian, he emerged as a leading spokesman for his denomination on secular as well as religious issues. These activities also involved him in the turbulent politics of the era; with the advent of a moderate coalition, he agreed in 1844 to become superintendent of Upper Canadian common schools. In this position, which he held until 1876, Ryerson shaped a developing system of elementary and grammar schools administered by local school boards, supported by parents, taxpayers, and government grants, and loosely bound by central policies and statutes. He established effective administration of the schools through a strong central Education Office, a body of administrative procedures, and a system of local inspection to ensure the implementation of provincial policy; he also sought to improve the program of studies and textbooks, and to establish a well-trained teaching force. He extended the common school system to include grammar schools, the predecessors of high schools. Universal access to elementary education for all Upper Canadians was achieved with the School Act of 1871, which made the elementary schools tuition free and introduced the first steps towards compulsory education. Few of Ryerson's ideas were original, nor was his vision without flaws. But Ontario's school system, as he shaped it, became a model for most of English-speaking Canada and one that endured well into the 20th century.

From The Oxford Companion to Canadian History in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: History of the Americas.


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