Review of Thames Valley school names could extend to British Royals

London Free Press, Heather Rivers posted November 30, 2022

Two more Thames Valley District school board schools will get new names as part of a sweeping review amid scrutiny of public institutions associated with residential schools and broader racial injustice.

Trustees voted in favour of a process to find new names for Sir John A. Macdonald and F.D. Roosevelt elementary schools in northeast London, but deferred plans to seek community input of 12 other schools and “learning environments” – such as the name of a room at the board office – several of which are named after the British Royal Family “who was at the centre of policies resulting in land theft from First Nations peoples,” according to a staff report.

The plans will be deferred until a financial implication report can be  produced at the  Dec. 20th board meeting.

“(A review of names) is an important action by this board to promote inclusive learning environments for all students in Thames Valley,” said Andrea Marlowe, the board’s human rights policy adviser.

The potential review “will also consider the principles of decolonization, anti-racism and anti-oppression,” she said. It is estimated to cost about $40,000 per school, plus staff time, for a name overhaul, education director Mark Fisher said.

The rationale for changing the name of John A. Macdonald school is because of “a history of racist and discriminatory exploits” of Canada’s first prime minister, Marlowe said.

For Roosevelt, an American president who guided the country through the Great Depression and Second World War, it is his “historical connection to racism and a controversial approach to Jewish refugees during the Holocaust.”

Said Marlowe: “As an American historical figure Roosevelt’s legacy has limited relevance to the Thames Valley community.”

A selection committee, after reviewing community submissions, will make recommendations by January for new names for the two schools to be in place by March. The selection process would include a poll of the school community.

Cody Groat is an assistant professor in the Indigenous studies program at Western University. He said the recommendation to rename Sir John. A. Macdonald school was expected, but other schools were “surprising.”

“It’s a very important first step, but I feel a lot more work needs to be done when it comes to community assessment of the remaining 12 schools,” he said, adding it appears little consultation was done beyond the board’s staff and students for the John A. Macdonald and F.D. Roosevelt elementary schools.

“The justifications that were given were very surface level,” he said. “I don’t know how much historical analysis went into the process. . . . When I look at the composition of the committee, it mentions that individuals with knowledge, experience or expertise (in) history-specific knowledge of colonial military history was considered an asset.

“There was not that external consultation with Indigenous community members.”

Earlier this year London’s former Ryerson elementary school was renamed Old North as part of a process that began in 2021. The school’s former namesake, Egerton Ryerson, is widely considered the father of public education in Ontario but also “a significant contributor” to Canada’s Indigenous residential school system, Marlowe said.

The history of residential schools came under scrutiny in May 2021, when what are believed to be 215 unmarked graves were located on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian residential school in British Columbia.

Residential schools were launched in the 1880s by churches and the federal government and operated for more than a century, seeking to convert and assimilate Indigenous children, who suffered widespread physical and sexual abuse at the institutions. The last one closed in 1996.