Class Notes: What's in a name?


Opportunities to dream up new school names don't come along often in Vancouver.

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The last school opened in the city was Yaletown's Elsie Roy elementary in 2004. It was named in honour of a woman who worked for the VSB for 44 years as a teacher, a teacher instructor, and who was an author of children's books. Roy was born in 1897 and died in 1986.

Soon the VSB will be accepting ideas for what to name the new elementary school being built at UBC. The school will be located at the University Hill secondary site at 2896 Acadia Rd. The high school is being moved into the old National Research Council building, which is being renovated.

The still unbuilt elementary school-currently dubbed the Acadia Road school-is expected to open in September 2013.

The Acadia Road school naming committee selection process was raised at the Feb. 8 planning and facilities committee meeting, although members haven't been named yet.

The district's naming policy calls for an eight-person selection committee to be formed, which will handle public consultation.

The committee will likely review submissions in May and June and recommend one of the names to the planning and facilities committee in June, according to the agenda item.

New school names are expected to honour the city's historical and cultural heritage, recognize outstanding individuals or be significant to the area's geography, states VSB policy. The discussion and decision-making should be interesting, judging by comments from board chair Patti Bacchus.

She pointed out other schools near the university have names such as Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mary and Lord Byng. "One of the concerns I have is how few names that we have in Vancouver schools that reflect our First Nations traditional territory, as opposed to our more colonial history with a lot of the British royalty and other military figures," she said. "So I'm hoping that we can look at that policy. It's a direction I think we need to at least consider as we name schools-that we have names that reflect the true diversity and history of this place that isn't necessarily well represented."

Bacchus's thoughts are similar to those I cited in a 2004 Courier story.

Then COPE trustee Noel Herron pointed out at a committee meeting that a disproportionate number of Vancouver schools are named after British admirals and generals, while others have origins that might now be considered inappropriate.

Sir William Macdonald was named after a tobacco merchant and education philanthropist, who earned the honour after donating money to build Vancouver Technical Boys School in the late 1920s. In return, school officials promised to name the next school built after him. Sir Matthew Begbie was named after B.C.'s first judge who was known as the "hanging judge" for sentencing 38 people to death between 1858 and 1871, although he was also recognized for fairness and high principles. Retired teacherlibrarian Val Hamilton documented the school district's naming history in 1987. Over two years, she researched the name of every school in the city for a book called The Schools of Vancouver.

Bacchus said she'd be interested in talking to the Musqueam Indian Band for ideas about the historical significance of the new elementary school's neighbourhood. "At least be aware of that and consider that factor as we're moving forward. I'm not sure our aboriginal communities have necessarily participated in the past in naming schools and I think it's something that's important to do."

(The Feb. 8 planning and facilities committee asked staff to revise the current naming policy to include First Nations cultural heritage.)

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