Why is school named after Canada's monarch on board's renaming list?: Professor

The London Free Press, Heather Rivers, posted December 1, 2022

A Western University historian and author is questioning a recommendation to potentially drop the name of Canada’s current monarch from a London elementary school.

A committee of the Thames Valley District school board recommended the board seek input from the community on whether 12 schools, including Prince Charles elementary school in east London, should be renamed following a review of school names that began last year.

Trustees voted at a board meeting Tuesday to ask staff to report on the costs of renaming a school and consulting a community before deciding on the recommendation.

The report is expected to be ready for the next board meeting on Dec. 20.

Jonathan Vance said the suggestion the school named after Charles, who became king on Sept. 8 when Queen Elizabeth died, should be renamed was a surprise.

“We are a constitutional democracy and we have the monarch as the head of state, so I was surprised to see that the documents saying Charles had limited impact locally,” said Vance, author of more than a dozen books including Building Canada: People and Projects that Shaped the Nation.

A report from the board’s school name review committee said Charles may have “limited relevance” to schools and the Royals are complicit in “land theft” from First Nations.

“Although a member of the Royal Family, Prince Charles does not have an explicit connection to Canada and has been honoured for his identity as a Royal as opposed to his contributions.

“He may therefore have limited relevance to the Thames Valley community today,” the report said. “The Royal family was at the centre of policies resulting in land theft from First Nations people.”

But Vance calls it “a much bigger issue.”


“If you oppose the monarchy then you have to seek constitutional redress – not rename something – so that one seems quite out of place,” he said.

Though Princess Anne French Immersion elementary school in London is also on the list of schools that could be renamed, Princess Elizabeth elementary school – named after Elizabeth before she became queen – is not.

Trustees voted Tuesday to rename Sir John A. Macdonald elementary school and F.D. Roosevelt elementary school because the politicians they are named after had ties to racism and discrimination.

The board began a review of all schools named after individuals in 2021 and established the school name review committee to make recommendations to ensure school names reflect the board’s commitment “to promote human rights, equity and inclusive learning environments and honour the diversity of (Thames Valley) schools and community.”

Macdonald was flagged because of his “history of racist and discriminatory exploits,” said Andrea Marlowe, the board’s human rights policy adviser. Canada’s first prime minister is considered an architect of the residential school system that separated Indigenous children from their families with the aim of assimilating them.

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.”

“(A review of names) is an important action by this board to promote inclusive learning environments for all students in Thames Valley,” Marlowe said.

The potential review “will also consider the principles of decolonization, anti-racism and anti-oppression,” she said.

The estimated cost of renaming a school is about $40,000 a school, plus staff time, education director Mark Fisher said.

For Vance the cost factor poses a problem.

“I can understand what it is all about. No one wants to be in a position where they go to a school named after someone who has something repugnant in their life,” he said. “But there are a lot of important challenges facing our schools; this is not one of them.

“I would much rather they devoted this time and energy and money into the crisis in educational assistants, for example.”

Vance also suggests the committee should “create a list of clear criteria of what was acceptable, and what wasn’t, and go through each of the places and other facilities and apply the criteria to them” instead of the other way around.

“It was a bit wrong-headed that way,” he said.

As well, the focus on names could be opening up a “can or worms, Vance said, adding the renaming process could continue into street names and geographical locations.

Earlier this year, London’s Ryerson elementary school was renamed Old North, the start 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.