Egerton Ryerson And Education In Upper Canada

EGERTON RYERSON was born in 1803, in the township of Charlotteville, now a part of the county of Norfolk. His father was a United Empire Loyalist who had held some command in a volunteer regiment of New Jersey. After the Revolution the elder Ryerson settled first in New Brunswick, coming later to Upper Canada, where he took up land and became a pioneer farmer. The young Ryersons, of whom there were several, took their full share in the laborious farm work, and Egerton seems to have prided himself upon his physical strength and his skill in all farm operations_

He received such an education as was afforded by the indifferent Grammar School of the London District, supplemented by the reading of whatever books he could secure.

At an early age he was strongly drawn toward that militant Christianity preached by the early Methodist Circuit Riders, and at the age of eighteen joined the Methodist Society. This step created an estrangement between Ryerson and his father, who already had two sons in the Methodist ministry. Ryerson left home and became usher in the London District Grammar School, where he remained two years, when his father sent for him to come home. After some further farming experience, the young man went to Hamilton to attend the Gore District Grammar School. He was already thinking of becoming a Methodist preacher, and wished to prepare himself by a further course of study. During his stay in Hamilton under the instruction of John Law, he worked so eagerly at Latin and Greek that he fell ill of a fever which nearly ended his career.

When barely twenty-two years of age he decided to travel as a Methodist missionary.

In a letter written about this time to his brother, the Rev. George Ryerson, we get a glimpse of the young preacher’s ideas upon the preparation of sermons. ” On my leisure days I read from ten to twenty verses of Greek a day besides reading history, the Scriptures, and the best works on practical divinity, among which Chalmers has decidedly the preference in my mind both for piety and depth of thought. These two last studies employ the greatest part of my time. My preaching is altogether original_ I endeavour to collect as many ideas from every source as I can ; but I do not copy the expression of anyone, for I do detest seeing blooming flowers in dead men’s hands. I think it my duty and I try to get a general knowledge and view of any subject that I discuss before-hand; but not unfrequently I have tried to preach with only a few minutes’ previous reflection.”

After being received into the Methodist connection as a probationer, Ryerson was assigned a charge on Yonge St., which embraced the town of York and several adjacent townships. It took four weeks on horseback and on foot over almost impassable roads to complete the circuit. During this time the probationer was expected to conduct f rom twenty-five to thirty-five services. The accommodation furnished by the pioneers was of the rudest kind, but the people gave the travelling preacher a hearty welcome_ Young Ryerson was acquainting himself with conditions in Upper Canada at first hand by living among the people. At a later time, when the opportunity came, he made use of his intimate knowledge to secure for these people the advantages of better schools.

During this first year of his missionary ministry, Ryerson was drawn into the Clergy Reserves controversy. The Methodist Society in Upper Canada was an offshoot of that body in the United States. This connection had conic about in a very natural way. Upper Canada was largely settled by United Empire Loyalists. The Methodist circuit-riders naturally followed their people into the wilds of Upper Canada. In many districts no religious services of any kind were held except those of the Methodists.

In May, 1826, a pamphlet was published, being a sermon preached by Archdeacon Strachan, of York, on the occasion of the death of the Bishop of Quebec. This pamphlet contained an historical sketch of the rise and progress of the Anglican Church in Canada. The claim was made that the Anglican Church was by law the Established Church of Upper Canada. The Methodists were singled out and held up to ridicule. They were represented as American and disloyal. Their preachers were declared to be ignorant and spreaders of sedition, and the Imperial Parliament was petitioned to grant £300,000 a year to the Anglican Church in Canada to enable it to maintain the loyalty of Upper Canada to Britain.

To Ryerson, the son of a Loyalist, this was more than could be borne, and he immediately crossed swords with the Anglican prelate by writing a defence of Methodism and calling into question the exclusive demands macle by Strachan on behalf of the Anglicans. The con-test waxed warm and then hot. The whole country was convulsed. Within four years the Legislature of Upper Canada passed Acts allowing the various religious denominations to hold lands for churches, parsonages, and burying-grounds, and also allowing their ministers to solemnize marriages. Besides these concessions, the Legislative Assembly was forced by public opinion to petition the Imperial Parliament against the claims of the Anglican Church to be an Established Church in Canada and to a monopoly of the Clergy Reserves.

During his second year in the ministry, Ryerson spent part of his time on a mission to the Chippewa Indians on the Credit River. While there, he showed himself to be very practical. He encouraged the Indians to build better houses and to clear and cultivate the land.* “After having collected the means necessary to build the house of worship and schoolhouse, I showed the Indians how to en-close and make gates for their gardens. Between daylight and sunrise I called out four of the Indians in succession and showed them how, and worked with them, to clear and fence in, and plow and plant their first wheat and corn fields. In the afternoon I called out the schoolboys to go with me and cut and pile and burn the underbrush in and around the village.

The little fellows worked with great glee as long as I worked with them, but soon began to play when I left them.”

A letter written by Rev. William Ryerson to his brother, the Rev. George Ryerson, on March 8th, 1827, after a visit to the Indian Mission, shows Egerton Ryerson’s practical nature and incidentally gives us his method of instruction. ” I visited Egerton at the Credit last week . . . They have about forty pupils on the list, but there were only thirty present. The rest were absent making sugar . . Their progress in spelling, reading, and writing, is astonishing, but especially in writing, which certainly exceeds anything I ever saw. When I was there they were fencing the lots in the village in a very neat, substantial manner. On my arrival at the Mission I found Egerton, about half a mile from the village, stripped to the shirt and pantaloons, clearing land with between twelve and twenty of the little Indian boys, who were all engaged in chopping and picking up the brush.”

At the Methodist Conference of 1827, Ryerson was sent to the Cobourg Circuit. During his term there he was again drawn into a controversy with Dr. Strachan, who sent to the Imperial Parliament an Ecclesiastical Chart, purporting to give an account of religion in Upper Canada. Ryerson claimed that this chart contained many false statements and that it was peculiarly unfair to the Methodists. The real point at issue was whether the Anglican Church was to become the Established Church of Upper Canada.

In 1828, Ryerson was appointed to the Hamilton and Ancaster Circuit, which reached from within five miles of Brantford to Stoney Creek. On September loth, 1828, he married Hannah Aikman, of Hamilton.

The Methodist Conference of 1829 deter-mined to establish an official newspaper to be known as The Christian Guardian. Ryerson was elected as the first editor and was sent to New York to procure the plant. The paper started with a circulation of 500, which in three years was increased to some 3,000. Besides defending Methodist principles and institutions, the paper made a strong stand for civil liberty, temperance, education, and missionary work. It soon came to be looked upon as one of the leading journals of Upper Canada. Ryerson gave up the position of editor in 1832, and the following year made a trip to England to negotiate a union between the Canadian Methodist Conference and the Wesleyan Conference of England. The union was con-summated. Ryerson returned to Canada and was re-elected editor of the Guardian.

While in England, he had interviews with Earl Ripon, Lord Stanley and other public men, to whom he gave valuable information concerning Canadian affairs, especially those connected with the vexed question of the status of the Anglican Church.

On his return to Canada, in 1833, Ryerson published in the Guardian ” Impressions Made by My Late Visit to England.” In this article he gave his estimate of Tories, Whigs, and Radicals. He saw much to admire in the moderate Tories, little to praise in the Whigs, and much to condemn in the Radicals. His strictures on the latter called down upon him the wrath and invective of William Lyon Mackenzie. To some extent Ryerson’s articles led the constitutional reformers in Upper Canada to separate themselves from those reformers who were prepared to establish a republican form of government in order to secure equal political and civil rights. To many of his old friends it seemed that Ryerson had given up championing liberty and had become a Tory. Many were ready to accuse him of self-seeking in his desire to conciliate the party of privilege. One reverend brother, writing to him, says : ” I can only account for your strange and un-Ryersonian conduct and advice on one principle—that there is something ahead which you, through your superior political spy-glass, have discovered and thus shape your course, while we landlubbers, short-sighted as we are, have not even heard of it.” Hundreds of sub-scribers gave up the Guardian as a protest against the views of its editor, but as the crisis approached which culminated in the Rebellion of ’37 and ’38, the tide of public opinion turned in Ryerson’s favour.

In 1835, Ryerson gave up the Guardian and took a church at Kingston. Scarcely was he settled when he undertook a second visit to England_ The Methodists had, in 1832, laid the corner-stone of the Upper Canada Academy at Cobourg. They had no charter, although au unsuccessful attempt had been made to have the Trustee Board incorporated by the Legislature of Upper Canada. Extensive buildings were under way and the trustees were in financial difficulties. Ryerson was sent to England to beg subscriptions and also to attempt to secure a Royal Charter. The work was distasteful to him, but he persevered, and after more than a year and six months spent in England he accomplished three ends. He secured enough money in subscriptions to relieve the most pressing immediate needs of the Trustee Board. He secured an order from the Colonial Secretary directed to the Governor of Upper Canada, authorizing him to pay to the Upper Canada Academy, from the unappropriated revenues of the Crown, the sum of £4,000. Last, and most important, he secured a Royal Charter, although up to that time no such charter had ever been issued to any religious body except the Established Church. To Ryerson, the visit to England was of prime importance. It gave him a broadened view of British institutions and English public men. It gave him a political experience that was of great value to him in later years. It gave him an opportunity to appeal to his fellow men upon the subject of education and educational institutions.

While in England, Ryerson contributed a series of letters to the London Times on Canadian affairs. There was a prevalent feeling in England that a very large part of the Upper Canadian people was determined upon a republican form of government. Ryerson’s letters did something to remove this impression.

After the Rebellion of 1837 was crushed, the constitutional reform party was apparently without any influence. It seemed that the Family Compact oligarchy would have everything in their own hands. Prospects for equality of civil and religious liberty were not bright, and it is significant of the Methodists’ appreciation of Ryerson’s ability that they immediately planned to make him again editor of the Guardian. His brother John, writing to him in March, 1838, said : ” It is a great blessing that Mackenzie and radicalism are down, but we are in imminent danger of being brought under the domination of a military and high-church oligarchy which would be equally bad, if not infinitely worse. Under the blessing of Providence, there is one remedy and only one : that is for you to take the editorship of the Guardian again. ”

Ryerson did take the position, and in his first editorial in the Guardian of the 11th July, 1838, says : ” Notwithstanding the almost in-credible calumny which has in past years been heaped upon me by antipodes-party-presses, I still adhere to the principles and views upon which I set out in 1826. I believe the endowment of the priesthood of any Church in the Province to be an evil to that church. . . I believe that the appropriation of the proceeds of the Clergy Reserves to general educational purposes will be the most satisfactory and advantageous disposal of them that can be made. In nothing is this Province so defective as in the requisite available provisions for an efficient system of general education. Let the distinctive character of that system be the union of public and private effort … To Government influence will be spontaneously added the various and combined religious influences of the country in the noble, statesmanlike and divine work of raising up an elevated, intelligent, and moral population.”

Dr. Ryerson clearly saw that religion, politics, and education could not at this period be separated, and for the next two years he did his utmost, through the Guardian, to prevent the Anglican Church from securing undivided possession of the Clergy Reserves. The difficulties of his task were increased by the fact that there were in Canada several British Wesleyan missionaries who were not unwilling to see an Anglican Establishment.

They were cleverly used by some of the Anglicans and their friends to cause ferment and sow discord among the Methodists in Canada. From 1838 until 1840, when he finally gave up the editorship of the Guardian,

Ryerson fought strongly for equal religious privileges for all the people of Upper Canada. Nor were Ryerson’s efforts in this direction confined to the columns of the Guardian_ He addressed several communications to the new Colonial Secretary, Lord Normanby.

Lord Durham and his successor, Lord Sydenham, received the cordial support of Ryerson in their efforts to give a constitutional government to Canada. Largely through Ryerson’s suggestion there was issued at Toronto, in 1841, the Monthly Review, which was to be a medium for disseminating the liberal views of Sydenham. Ryerson wrote the prospectus and contributed some articles. Probably as a recognition for this work, Sydenham sent him a draft for £100, which he promptly returned.

In May, 1840, Ryerson paid a fraternal visit to the American General Conference at Baltimore. At this time he fully purposed to take a church in New York City for one or two years. He even thought it quite possible that he might make the United States his permanent home. On his return to Canada from the Baltimore visit he was elected Secretary of the Conference. Charges were made against him by a British Wesleyan which determined him to visit England. This visit led to a rupture between the Canadian and British Methodist Conferences. When Ryerson and his brother returned to Canada, a special meeting of the Canada Conference was convened to consider the break with British Methodism. The result was a rupture in the Canadian Wesleyan Conference itself. Many blamed the Ryersons for the quarrel with the English Conference, and Egerton again thought seriously of going to the United States or of withdrawing from ministerial work. The truth seems to be that Ryerson was more than a preacher. He lived in stirring times, when the nascent elements of constitutional government were in process of crystallization. He unconsciously felt that he must have a part in directing the destinies of his native country. He saw clearly that the Canadian Methodist Church must ultimately be independent and that its ministers ought not to adopt a policy dictated to them by the English Conference, many members of which were wholly ignorant of Canadian conditions.

During the next two years, 1841 and 1842, Ryerson was in charge of the Adelaide Street Church, Toronto. He seems to have given himself up wholly to his pastoral work and to have taken little active part in passing events.

On the 27th of August, 1841, Lord Sydenham signed a bill which made Upper Canada Academy a college, with university powers. The name was changed to Victoria College. In October of the same year, Ryerson was appointed the first principal of the new college. He did not give up his church work until June, 1842. On the 21st of that month he was formally installed in his new position. On the 3rd of August the Wesleyan University of Middletown, Conn., conferred upon him the degree of Doctor of Divinity.

Lord Sydenham (lied in 1841. It seems that shortly before his death he had some communication with Ryerson regarding the latter’s appointment as Superintendent of Education for Upper Canada. Ryerson claimed that the Governor actually promised him the appointment but that there had never been any official written record. Sydenham was succeeded by Sir Charles Ragot, who in May, 1842, made the Rev. Mr. Murray Superintendent of Education. Sir Charles Ragot died in May, 1843, and was succeeded by Sir Charles Metcalfe. It was a critical period in the history of Canada. The people were sup-posed to be in possession of the enjoyment of responsible government. But as a matter of fact, very few had any definite ideas as to what was meant by responsible government. Lord Metcalfe refused to accept the advice of his Council regarding an appointment. Instead of resigning at once as a protest they attempted to secure from him a promise that he would in future accept their recommendations. He refused. Later the leading members of the Council resigned. Party feeling ran high, and the Governor had few friends.

Ryerson had been upon familiar terms with Lord Durham, Lord Sydenham, and Sir Charles Ragot. He now had several communications and one or more interviews with Lord Metcalfe. He made direct and positive offers of his services to the Governor_ He then wrote a series of nine letters in vindication of the Governor’s course. These letters caused much excitement and won for Ryerson the lasting enmity of the advanced Reform party, who openly accused him of toadyism and of selling his support to Lord Metcalfe in return for the promise of office. Whatever may have been the effect of Ryerson’s letters, Lord Metcalfe’s party won a temporary victory and Ryerson himself was appointed Superintendent of Education for Upper Canada in October, 1844.

To show how the political opponents of Lord Metcalfe viewed Ryerson’s appointment, the circumstances connected with it and his fitness for the position of Superintendent, I quote from the Toronto Globe, the editor of which was an out-and-out opponent of Ryerson and an unsparing critic of his early educational legislation. In the Globe of May 28th, 1844, there appeared a letter signed ” Junius,” protesting against Ryerson’s appointment. The writer insinuates that Ryerson was won over by receiving some notice from Lord Metcalfe, and that the Governor hoped by winning over Ryerson to win a united support from the Methodists. He calls Ryerson a violent political partisan and taunts him with having only a superficial education. He says : ” Nor is it flattering to the many learned men of the country that one represented to be of slender attainments in a few common branches of English education, and totally ignorant of mathematics and classics, should be entrusted with the education of the country, many of whose youthful scholars have attained higher knowledge than their chief.”

In a Globe editorial of June 4th, 1844, in commenting upon Ryerson’s first letter in defence of Lord Metcalfe, the writer says: ” If the Rev. Mr. Ryerson’s appearance in the political field is indecorous and uncalled for, the manner in which he has begun his work is in perfect keeping with that appearance. A more presumptuous and egotistical exhibition from a man of talents and education has never been brought under the public eye. The first column alone of his Address [preface to letters in de-fence of Lord Metcalfe] contains fifty repetitions of the little insignificant word I, to say nothing of me and my . . . We may be permitted to express our utter astonishment, however, to find a minister of the Gospel em-barking with so much eagerness in the sea of politics.”

That Ryerson had a very good understanding with Lord Metcalfe as to the position of Superintendent of Education before writing the famous letters is apparent to anyone who reads the correspondence. That there was any-thing discreditable to either party in that under-standing has never been shown. On the contrary, it seems quite certain that Ryerson honestly believed the Governor was right. It is certain he made out a strong case and likely won many supporters for the Metcalfe party.

This was especially galling to the party who called themselves Reformers, because they had looked upon Ryerson as one of their champions. But Ryerson never had been, and never became, a mere party man. He fought for great principles, and if up to 1844 he had generally found himself with the Reformers, it was because they were championing what Ryerson believed to be the right.

To taunt him with being half-educated was the mark of a small mind. Every man must be judged according to the way he makes use of his opportunities, and by such a standard no man in Canadian public life has ever measured higher than Egerton Ryerson. He may have known ” little Latin and less Greek,” he may have been wholly ignorant of the binomial theorem, and he may not have been able to write as smooth and graceful English as the classical scholars of Oxford, but he knew that thousands of boys and girls in the backwoods of Upper Canada were growing up in ignorance ; he knew that the secondary schools of Upper Canada were scarcely more efficient than they had been thirty years before, and he knew that the country had ample resources to give reasonable educational advantages to all. More than this, he must have felt that, given reason-able freedom and support, he could in a short time change the whole system of education.

Dr. Ryerson, in accepting appointment, stipulated that he should be allowed to make a tour of Europe before taking up the active duties of his office. He left Canada for Europe in November, 1844, and returned in December, 1845. He made an elaborate report based on personal investigation into the schools of Great Britain and Ireland, France, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, and other European countries, besides New York and the New England States. Perhaps the systems of Ireland, Germany, and Massachusetts gave Ryerson more practical suggestions than those of any other countries. In Prussia he saw the advantages of trained teachers and a strong central bureau of ad-ministration; in Ireland he saw a simple solution of religious difficulties and a fine system of national textbooks ; in Massachusetts he saw an efficient system managed by popularly elected boards of trustees.

During his absence Ryerson was again attacked and held up to ridicule by the Globe. In an editorial of April 29th, 1845, we find the following : ” The vanity of the Deputy Superintendent of Education demands fresh incense at every turn. He has doffed the politician for the moment and now cornes out a ruling pedagogue of Canada. What a pity that he was not a cardinal or at least a stage representative of one! At what a rate would he strut upon the boards as Wolsey and rant for the benefit of his hearers and for his own benefit more especially! He beats all the presumptuous meddling priests of the day … Doubtless the Rev. Mr. Ryerson is preparing to astonish the world by his educational researches in Europe and the United States. It will be a subject of no small amusement to watch his pranks. We shall no doubt hear of his visiting all the most celebrated Continental schools and are astonished he did not call at Oxford and Cambridge_ He could no doubt have given them some excellent hints!”

In a Globe editorial of December 16th, 1845, when the Draper University Bill of that year was yet a topic of public discussion, we find this reference to Ryerson: ” It is now more than twelve months since the Province was insulted by the appointment of Dr. Ryerson to the responsible situation of Superintendent of Public Instruction. To hide the gross iniquity of the transaction, Ryerson was sent out of the country on pretence of inquiring into the different systems of education. After being several months in England this public officer, paid by the people of Canada, has for the last eight months been on the Continent on a tour of pleasure . . . Let the people of Canada rejoice and every Methodist willing to be sold throw up his cap. Ryerson is here ready to dispose of them to the highest bidder, the purchase money to be applied to his own benefit with a modicum for Victoria College.”

Ryerson’s report of 1846 was favourably received, and the Government asked him to draft a school bill based on his report. This he did, and the Bill of 1846 became the basis of our Common School system. After Lord Metcalfe’s departure from Canada and the election of a Reform administration, there was a clamour from strong party men that Ryerson should be removed. The Toronto Globe led in the attacks against him. It is a tribute to his ability and to the system of education which he proposed, that these attacks all failed and that Dr. Ryerson came by degrees to command the confidence of both political parties.

As soon as possible after his return from Europe in 1845, Ryerson moved from Cobourg to Toronto. When appointed in I844, his rank was that of Deputy or Assistant Superintendent of Education for Upper Canada, the nominal head of the Department being the Provincial Secretary. The School Bill of 1846 made a change, and on June 17th of that year Ryerson received his commission as Superintendent of Education. One of his first acts was a proposal to found a journal of education, which should be a semi-official means of communication between the Superintendent on the one hand and District Superintendents, Trustees, Municipal Councillors, and teachers on the other. The ” Journal ” was established in 1848 and regularly issued until Ryerson gave up office in 1876.

In the autumn of 1847, Ryerson spent nearly three months visiting County School Conventions, where he explained the new School Act and delivered a lecture upon ” The Importance of Education to an Agricultural People.” In 1850, Ryerson began a struggle for free schools which lasted until 1871. About the same time he obtained permission from the Legislature to establish an Educational Depository in connection with the Education Department. He visited Europe and some American cities and made very advantageous arrangements for securing in large quantities books, maps, globes, and other school appliances. These were supplied to School Boards at 5o cents on the dollar. The Depository was continued in operation until 1881 and handled in all

$1,000,000 worth of supplies. In 1853 Ryerson spent three months in attending County Conventions and addressed thirty meetings. During this tour he visited his native county of Norfolk, and at Simcoe was presented with an address by the School Board. On his return to Toronto he was presented with an address and a silver tea service by the officials of the Education Department and the teachers of the Normal School.

In 1853. Ryerson took advantage of an annual grant made by the Legislature in 1850 to establish public libraries throughout the Province. Before the end of 1855 no less than 117,000 volumes were distributed. In 1854 Ryerson was one of the Commissioners to pre-pare a report on a system of education for New Brunswick. In June, 1855, being in poor health, he got leave of absence to travel in Europe and to purchase objects of art for an educational museum. He was appointed Honorary Commissioner to the Paris Exposition by the Government. During his tour he visited London, spent several weeks in Paris, and made brief visits to Antwerp, Brussels, Munich, Florence, and Rome.

In 1857, a new system of audit was adopted by the Government. Previous to this time the total money voted for schools for Upper Canada had been paid over to Ryerson. He gave bondsmen as security for the money and deposited it in the Toronto banks. Interest allowed on unexpended balances was credited to his personal account. This system seems to have been universal among officers in charge of public money at that time. But in 1857 the new auditor called in question Ryerson’s right to this interest. After much wrangling, Ryerson paid over to the Government f 1,375, being the amount he had received for interest. He then put in a claim of about the same amount for his expenses to Europe in 1844, and for amounts paid a deputy during his absence. The Government paid his claim, thus showing that they believed him morally entitled to the interest which he had repaid.

In 1860, Ryerson made a three months’ educational tour, addressing County Conventions. In all, he attended thirty-five meetings, giving addresses on the subjects of ” Vagrant Children,” ” Free Schools,” and ” Public Gram-mar Schools.” Tie was given a public dinner by the teachers of Northumberland and Durham on the occasion of his official visit to Cobourg. In 1866 he made a similar tour, addressing forty meetings in seven weeks. His chief object was to create public opinion in favor of legislation on compulsory attendance, public libraries and township Boards of Trustees. Later in the same year he again got permission to visit Europe for the purpose of adding to the museum and collecting information on schools for the deaf, dumb. and blind. He visited New York. London, Paris, Rome, Venice, and Geneva, returning in 1867. On his return he presented to the Legislature an elaborate report on education in Great Britain and European countries. In December, 1868, Ryerson tendered his resignation, suggesting that a responsible Minister of Education should be appointed and proposing that he himself should be superannuated. The resignation was not accepted.

In 1869 he held another series of County Conventions. In the same year he wrote a letter to the Provincial Secretary, Hon. M. C. Cameron, reflecting on the action of Treasurer E. B. Wood in regard to a proposed change in the financial management of the Education Department. Ryerson’s letter was indiscreet and would have led to his dismissal had he not withdrawn it. In 1872 the long-smouldering dissatisfaction of the Reform party with Ryerson’s administration came to a head. The Honourable Edward Blake was Premier, and his Government disallowed some of Ryerson’s regulations, questioned the authority of the Council of Public Instruction, and sought in many ways to curtail the Superintendent’s power. Ryerson showed very little desire for conciliation and wished to refer the dispute to the Courts. He had so long and so success-fully wielded an arbitrary power that he could not acquiesce in the system which made his Department subordinate to a responsible Cabinet. In 1873, Oliver Mowat became Attorney-General, and he, too, found Ryerson obdurate. Finally, as a result of this agitation, the Council of Public Instruction came to be composed partly of members elected by various bodies of teachers and partly by members appointed by the Cabinet. These latter were not recommended by the Superintendent, as had formerly been the custom. Friction over the Council continued during 1874 and 1875.

In 1876, Ryerson was retired on his full salary of $4,000 a year. The following May he went to England to consult documents in the library of the British Museum bearing on his work, ” The Loyalists of America.” He enjoyed fairly good health until within a few months of his death, which occurred on February 19th, 1882. The Government recognized his valuable services by a grant of $10,000 to his widow. On the 24th of May, 1889, a statue to his memory was unveiled on the grounds of the Education Department, the scene of his labours for nearly forty years.