Archive for September, 2017

When BC schools are named for people “close to home and heart”

September 27, 2017

by Janet Nicol

Make no mistake, naming new schools is political and at times controversial. There was great public outcry earlier this year, when residents petitioned to name a new elementary school in Vancouver’s Yaletown after Chinese-Canadian pioneer and advocate, Won Alexander Cumyow and the request was turned down in favour of the bland “Crosstown.”

A debate erupted two years ago when Sir William Macdonald Elementary on Vancouver’s east side was threatened with closure. Protesters succeeded in a temporary reprieve, and got a promise to rename the school to reflect its unique Aboriginal program.

When John Robson Elementary was torn down and replaced by a new middle school in New Westminster three years ago, trustees engaged in a renaming discussion because the late-nineteenth century BC Premier John Robson had a poor record on race relations. The result was Fraser River Middle School.

As more community members are invited to consult on the naming of new schools, a shift is occurring. Instead of reflecting colonial ties and a male-dominated elite, more schools are named for “ordinary” men and women of diverse backgrounds who have made valuable contributions. The local landscape is enriched when our public schools are named for people who displayed heroism, generosity, and talent. Students can be motivated and inspired by their school’s namesake too. Allowing more local input in the process of selecting names gives school communities a greater sense of pride and belonging.

Consider these stories behind the names…

Few argued against the renaming of Port Coquitlam Senior Secondary in 1986 to Terry Fox Secondary. Fox was a beloved alumni, and his personal battle against cancer and his selfless Marathon of Hope inspired the nation.

Japanese-Canadian pioneer and human rights advocate Tomekichi Homma had an elementary school named after him by Richmond trustees in 1990.

Jessie Wowk Elementary in Richmond was named for a humanitarian Ukrainian immigrant who helped people standing in bread lines during the 1930s depression.

Educators have been getting their dues too. In Surrey, Earl Marriott Secondary opened in 1972, named after its first principal, who went on to become the district superintendent.

It seems fitting to have more schools named for female educators, considering women have dominated the profession. In 1989 Martha Jane Norris Elementary was named for Surrey’s first school teacher, and a Yaletown elementary school was named after educator Elsie Roy in 2004. Norma Rose Point Elementary opened in 2017 on the UBC campus, honouring an Aboriginal educator and member of the nearby Musqueam Band.

A middle school in Kelowna was named for constable Neil Bruce in 1965. He was shot in the line of duty while attempting to rescue a young woman.

Mar Jok, a Chinese-Canadian resident who served as a court interpreter and operated the Star Cafe on Water Street, has his name on an elementary school in West Kelowna.

Dr. Kearney Middle School, built in 1985 in Fort St. John, is named for a pioneer doctor and early advocate of Medicare who successfully guided a life-saving operation on a man, via radio, in 1939.

Margaret “Ma” Murray Elementary in Fort St. John was named for the town’s colourful newspaper owner in 2016.

Charles Hays Secondary in Prince Rupert was established in 1992 and named after a local businessman who met his fate on the Titanic.

Myrtle Phillip Elementary in Whistler opened in 1976, named for a woman who built Rainbow Lodge with her husband Alex, in 1913. She was also a school trustee, and frequently visited her namesake school until her death in 1986.

In the Kootenays, Hume Elementary, over a century old, is named after an early hotel owner, J. Fred Hume. Now both the Nelson hotel and school have heritage value.

Reprinted from BC Teacher magazine, September-October issue, 2017.

 

Advertisements