The Ryerson Experiment
- Nishnawbe Aski Nation Indian Residential Schools in Ontario, 2005 -
In 1845, a report to the Legislative Assembly recommended that industrial boarding schools be adopted for the education of Indian children. In 1847, Dr. Egerton Ryerson, the Chief Superintendent of Education for Upper Canada (Ontario) suggested a method of establishing and conducting the industrial schools for the benefit of Indian children.
Their purpose should be to “give a plain English education adapted to the working farmer and mechanic” and in addition “agriculture, kitchen-gardening and mechanics so far as mechanics is connected with the making and repairing the most useful agricultural implements”. To attain their objective, it would be necessary for the students to reside together, with adequate provision being made for their domestic and religious education. Dr. Ryerson especially deemed the latter essential. “With him (the Indian) nothing can be done to improve and elevate his character and condition without the aid of religious feeling”. For this reason he insisted that the animating and controlling spirit of each Industrial School “should be a joint effort of the Government and of the religious organization concerned. Decisions on the appointment of the School Superintendent, buildings to be erected and conditions for admission of pupils were also to be made jointly. The Government would be responsible for inspection and the laying down of general rules and regulations as well as making financial grants to support each of the operating cost, and provide spiritual guidance for the pupils.
After Ryerson’s report was published two Industrial Schools were established, Alnwick at Alderville (1848) and the Mount Elgin School at Muncey (1851). However, a Commission appointed to investigate Indian Affairs in Canada in 1858, concluded that the two schools had not fully attained the objectives set out by Dr. Ryerson. The members of the Commission decided that the experiment had been a failure for the following reasons:
…Enrollment of the pupils at a late age and, consequently, short attendance; parental prejudice against the school; and lack of funds to establish the “school leavers” on the land. The Commissioners saw little evidence that the pupils were applying the skills acquired in school after they returned home and it was decided that the benevolent experiment had been, to a great extent, a failure.
 Indian Affairs. The Canadian Superintendent. The Education of Indian Children in Canada. A Symposium written by members of Indian Affairs Education Division, with comments by the Indian Peoples. Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1965, at pp. 13-14.
 Report of the special Commissioners Appointed on teh 8th day of September, 1856, to Investigate Indian Affairs in Canada, 1858.
 Indian Affairs. The Canadian Superintendent. The Education of Indian Children in Canada. A symposium written by members of Indian Affairs Education Division, with comments by the Indian peoples. Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1965, at pp. 13-14