Adolphus Egerton Ryerson

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Adolphus Egerton Ryerson

Adolphus Egerton Ryerson (1803-1882) was a Canadian Methodist clergyman and educator. One of the leading Methodists in Upper Canada, he opposed the pretensions of the Anglican Church.

Egerton Ryerson was born on March 24, 1803, at Charlotteville, Norfolk County, Upper Canada. His father, Joseph, was a United Empire loyalist. Ryerson was educated at the district grammar school and then worked for a time on his father's farm. In 1821 he joined the Methodist Church and taught in the London district grammar school. In 1823 he returned to work on his father's farm once more, but in 1825 he was ordained a Methodist minister and assigned to the Niagara circuit. He was soon transferred to the Yonge Street circuit, which included York (Toronto), and he immediately entered into a strenuous campaign in opposition to the claims of the Church of England in Upper Canada to the income of the clergy reserves.

In 1829 he began to edit the Christian Guardian and remained its editor, with several interruptions, for the next decade. In 1833 he was sent as a delegate to the Wesleyan Methodist Conference in England and was a key figure in bringing about the uniting of the Wesleyans and the Methodist Episcopal Church in Canada. He returned to England in 1835 in search of financial support for a Methodist college in Upper Canada, and in 1841 Victoria College was incorporated, with Ryerson as its first president.

Ryerson at first favored the Reform cause in politics, but in the early 1830s he became disillusioned with many of the Reformers, and with William Lyon Mackenzie in particular, and increasingly gave his support to the governor's party. In the general election of 1844 he worked effectively on behalf of the administration of the new governor, Sir Charles Metcalfe.

In the same year he was appointed as the second superintendent of education for Upper Canada and thus began what, in effect, was the second of his careers. He studied schools and teaching methods in the United States, in England, and on the Continent and used his findings to remodel the educational system of Upper Canada.

In 1846 a school bill which incorporated many of Ryerson's ideas was passed by the legislature. After the Reformers obtained control of the government in 1848, they attempted to alter his system, but with the cooperation of Robert Baldwin, the attorney general for Canada West, Ryerson was able to maintain the basic structure intact.

Ryerson continued to administer the school system in the United Province of Canada and then, under confederation, the schools in the province of Ontario until he retired as superintendent in 1876. He died at Toronto on Feb. 19, 1882.

Further Reading

Ryerson's autobiography, The Story of My Life, was edited and published posthumously by J. George Hodgins (1883). The definitive biography of Ryerson is C. B. Sissons, Egerton Ryerson: His Life and Letters (2 vols., 1937-1947).

Additional Sources

Damania, Laura. Egerton Ryerson, Don Mills, Ont.: Fitzhenry &Whiteside, 1975. □