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By Erin Valois

The original “big idea” in public education came from Egerton Ryerson, the university’s namesake. In 1844, he became the Chief Superintendent of Education for Upper Canada. He was dubbed founder of Ontario’s public school system in 1846. He researched various school structures in the Western world to form a plan for the province’s education system. In his study commissioned by Indian Affairs in 1847, Egerton suggested that Aboriginal Peoples be educated in separate schools that taught European beliefs and practices — the residential school system.

Though his legacy on Aboriginal culture casts a long shadow on his original “big idea” of free primary and secondary education, Egerton helped design Ontario’s education system.

In 1852, Egerton created the Normal School, a teacher’s college in Toronto. The Normal School’s campus became home to Ryerson University in 1948. Egerton emphasized the importance of learning about science and the arts. He created the first publicly-funded museum in Canada in 1857 — The Museum of Natural History and Fine Arts, which later became the Royal Ontario Museum.

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