ryerson statue

Sit-in held at Ryerson statue to commemorate children found buried at residential school

Demonstrators in Toronto staged a sit-in in front of the Egerton Ryerson statue on the downtown university's campus Monday to mourn and pay tribute to the 215 children found buried in an unmarked grave at Kamloops Indigenous Residential School last week. 

The sit-in was organized by a group of "Indigenous Students fighting for social justice & human rights @ X University," a name given to the school by students who've chosen to refrain from calling it Ryerson due to the historical figure's role in designing the residential school system. 

"There will be a sit in at the X statue on Gould street at X campus," reads an Instagram post shared by the group Monday. "Bring your rattles, drums, your songs, and your shoes! We will be occupying the space until we meet 215 pairs of shoes. Please join us if you can."

Participants gathered near the statue Monday afternoon as some played drums and sang, and they remained at the site until 215 pairs of shoes had been placed on the ground in memory of the 215 children found in the mass grave. 

The statue and nearby building were also covered in paint and graffiti with words such as "Dig them up," "Shame," "Land back," Return them home" and "Show the whole world how many of us you have murdered," though it's unclear at this point who is responsible for the graffiti.

This is far from the first time the statue has been vandalized, however, as calls to rename the university and remove the statue have been ongoing for years. 

But Monday's sit-in came as people across the country expressed grief and outrage about Canada's horrific treatment of Indigenous children in residential schools, the last of which closed as recently as 1996.

The discovery has also resulted in renewed demands to implement the 94 calls to action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission

On Monday, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett tweeted that a TRC request for $1.5 million in funding from the federal government for a series of projects that would identify burial site locations of children at Canadian residential schools was denied by the Stephen Harper government in 2009.

And while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised "concrete action" following the discovery of the mass grave, many have said they'll believe it when they see it.

A number of tributes have meanwhile been taking place in Toronto in honour of the 215 children, including a vigil at Nathan Phillips Square this past weekend. 

The Toronto Raptors also lowered the flags outside the OVO Athletic Centre for 215 hours in their memory, writing on Twitter that "#WeTheNorth is a rally cry for all Canadians to recognize that further truth & reconciliation is needed."

The Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens also held a moment of silence at Scotiabank Arena Monday night to honour the children, though some criticized the fact that they proceeded to sing Canada's national anthem immediately afterwards. 

The TTC is meanwhile planning to pause service for two minutes at 2:15 p.m. Tuesday. 

On Sunday, Toronto Mayor John Tory also released a statement about the tragedy.

He promised that the city's flags would be lowered at the request of Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation Chief Stacey Laforme and that the Toronto sign would be dimmed "to further recognize the loss of life and the ongoing need for truth and reconciliation."

Lead photo by

Martin Reis

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