Manitoba’s largest school board is reviewing all of its K-12 building titles to determine whether the namesakes and their respective legacies are in line with modern-day morals.

Manitoba’s largest school board is reviewing all of its K-12 building titles to determine whether the namesakes and their respective legacies are in line with modern-day morals.

Last week, Jamie Dumont, vice-chairwoman of the board of trustees in the Winnipeg School Division, introduced a motion to undertake an evaluation of all schools named after people and research each historical figure’s resumé.

JOHN WOODS / FREE PRESS FILES

Last week, Jamie Dumont, vice-chairwoman of the board of trustees in the Winnipeg School Division, introduced a motion to undertake an evaluation of all schools named after people and research each historical figure’s resumé.

Last week, Jamie Dumont, vice-chairwoman of the board of trustees in the Winnipeg School Division, introduced a motion to undertake an evaluation of all schools named after people and research each historical figure’s resumé.

"We operate, as a school division, under a number of values and, in many cases, we are very much a leader in diversity, equity, inclusion and Indigenous education — so I think it’s important that, as a board, we ensure that our schools and our buildings don’t contradict these values," Dumont said during a virtual board meeting Sept. 13.

The review will identify whether any buildings are named after individuals with a history of actions that are discriminatory or not in accordance with WSD values, namely: inclusiveness, diversity, reconciliation, and respect for the rights and human dignity of others, or both.

Sample of WSD school names

Andrew Mynarski V.C. School: Mynarski, born in Winnipeg, was an air force gunner over France in 1944 when his plane was struck. He was badly burned during a vain attempt to free the rear gunner, who was trapped in their falling aircraft. He died and was decorated with the Victoria Cross. 

Andrew Mynarski V.C. School: Mynarski, born in Winnipeg, was an air force gunner over France in 1944 when his plane was struck. He was badly burned during a vain attempt to free the rear gunner, who was trapped in their falling aircraft. He died and was decorated with the Victoria Cross. 

David Livingstone School: Livingstone was a Scottish explorer, doctor, philanthropist and missionary who explored Africa in the 19th century. He was an advocate for British colonial expansion, but fought against slavery. He died in 1873 in what is now Zambia.

Gordon Bell High School: Bell was born in Ontario and attended medical college in Manitoba in the late 19th century. He was superintendent of the Brandon Asylum for the Insane, which later became the Brandon Mental Health Centre. He was also Manitoba's first ophthalmologist, chair of the Manitoba Board of Health in the early 20th century and one of the first six professors hired by the University of Manitoba.

Isaac Brock School: Brock, born in 1769, was a British army officer and colonial administrator in Canada in the early 1800s, responsible for defending Upper Canada against the United States. 

John M. King School: Rev. John Marks King, born in 1829 in Scotland, was president of Manitoba College (now the University of Winnipeg) and was involved in several public charities in the city.

Ralph Brown School: Ralph Russell James Brown, born in Ontario, was a principal of Somerset School at Notre Dame Avenue and Sherbrook Street in Winnipeg in the early 20th century. He was wounded at the Battle of Passchendaele in the First World War in 1917 and later died.

Ecole Robert H. Smith School: In 1926, the former River Heights school was renamed for Robert Huston Smith, who died that year. Smith was a secretary-treasurer of the Winnipeg School Division for 20 years and helped open libraries in the city.

William Whyte School: William Methven Whyte, born in Scotland in 1843, was a railway executive in charge of all Canadian Pacific lines west of Lake Superior. He was pivotal in the massive expansion of the railroad in Canada. He was knighted in 1911. 

— Source: School websites, Manitoba Historical Society

Per the motion, which was unanimously approved by trustees, community members will then be invited to submit feedback on names.

Public recommendations are then to be presented to the division’s building and transportation committee to consider new monikers.

While noting naming has been a topic of interest across the country in recent months, Dumont told the Free Press conducting a thorough evaluation of schools in central Winnipeg is an opportunity for the division to be a leader on the file.

The trustee indicated no school in particular is being targeted but the division wants to be proactive and continue its work on analyzing names.

There are currently 80 schools in WSD, which are attended by upwards of 32,000 students.

WSD started having discussions about renaming Cecil Rhodes School in June 2020.

SASHA SEFTER / FREE PRESS FILES

WSD started having discussions about renaming Cecil Rhodes School in June 2020.

Dumont added: "If we don’t take a proactive approach, are we at risk of sending a message that we’re OK with (honouring problematic figures)?"

The board started having discussions about renaming Cecil Rhodes School in June 2020, after community members put pressure on administration to address the K-9 building's affiliation with a former prime minister of what is now South Africa, whose ideas laid the groundwork for racist apartheid policies.

In the spring, after reviewing the results of a division survey on the subject, trustees voted overwhelmingly to start consultations on a new name.

A similar process is currently underway in south Winnipeg to rename Ryerson School in the Pembina Trails School Division, in order to cut its ties with Egerton Ryerson, an architect of Canada's residential school system.

A 2017 study of WSD school titles, which was undertaken by an education student at the University of Manitoba for her master's thesis, suggests approximately 70 per cent of them are named after people.

A similar process is currently underway in south Winnipeg to rename Ryerson School in the Pembina Trails School Division

ALEX LUPUL / FREE PRESS FILES

A similar process is currently underway in south Winnipeg to rename Ryerson School in the Pembina Trails School Division

Katya Adamov Ferguson determined those names often honour white European colonialists, missionaries and explorers, who were men who lived between the 18th and 20th centuries.

"If the data of school names were listed in chronological order, it would tell the story of imperialism and colonization," wrote Adamov Ferguson.

Among the academic’s observations is the roster of chosen names fails to reflect the history, culture and contributions of Indigenous peoples.

She recommended in 2017 the division rethink both current school names and the way historical figures are uncritically described on school webpages, so backgrounders do not continue to retell a one-sided version of history.

maggie.macintosh@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh
Reporter

Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.

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