Naming schools to honour people may be ending for one London, Ont. area school board

image of public school

By Gerry DewanCTV News London, May 11, 2023

The practice of naming schools to honour prominent people may be coming to an end for the Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB).

The board is reviewing how schools are named and are looking at taking the practice in a different direction.

A change in approach was signalled just as a new name was being selected for Sir John A. Macdonald Public School.

Based on three recommendations from a selection committee, the school community had chosen Carling Heights Public School as a new name, paying tribute to John Carling.

Carling was a London, Ont. politician and businessperson known mostly for the brewery he operated in the 1800s, and the beer that’s carried the Carling name ever since.

The school board put the process on pause last week, announcing they were reviewing the naming policy.

"We have concerns about naming our schools with a person’s name,” said TVDSB Chair Lori-Ann Pizzolato. “We need to look at that."

While there will be a public consultation, it appears the direction the board wants to go in is to stop naming schools to honour others.

"I think it's an important step. I think it's a necessary step,” according to Cody Groat.

Groat is an assistant professor in Western University's history department and Indigenous Studies program. He pointed to names that have ties to colonialism, including Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister.

"I think for too long we've been dealing with some of these controversial figures where we're approaching this after the fact,” said Groat. “If we have a systemic policy in place now, where we're not going to name schools after individuals, I think that's the best step going forward."

The challenge for the board is that, when naming a school, there's no way of knowing if information about problematic behaviours might emerge, and names changes come at a cost.

Pizzolato said the renaming of Sir John A. Macdonald Public School is an example of that.

"We've been told that the cost of renaming the school is $40,000. That's why we want to get it right," said Pizzaloto.

Groat said for children of families who have survivors of the residential school system, it's also about ensuring a welcoming learning environment, "If you are a family member who had that engrained in your lived experiences, that's going to be with you all day and might impact your experiences in the school itself."

The naming policy review will likely take months and it's expected a new name for Macdonald Public School won't be selected prior to the start of the new school year in the fall.