Hamilton public school trustees vote to cease naming schools after people

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Board will also review all current school names. There are currently four Hamilton secondary schools named after people and 31 elementary schools. Photo credit: The Globe and Mail/J.P. Moczulski


The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB), Hamilton’s public school board, will no longer be naming new schools after people following a trustee vote on the matter.

The new policy will also involve a review of all current school names and will rename whichever school names are deemed inappropriate.

The new school name policy includes eight guidelines that must be followed. It requires that all names should consider the impact on “Indigenous and equity-deserving communities.”

The board recently renamed Ryerson Elementary School in Hamilton due to Egerton Ryerson’s role in creating Canada’s residential school system.

The school is now known as Kanétskare Elementary School. “Kanétskare” is a Mohawk word meaning “by the bay.”

Some trustees referenced an online survey run by the board which found that 64 per cent of respondents opposed naming schools after people, while 30 per cent were in favour and 6 per cent were unsure.

However, the survey on which they were basing their decision only had 495 respondents.

The new policy is meant to be part of the board’s goal of being more anti-racist.

The board will even be reviewing the names of school gyms, sports fields, and designated rooms such as libraries and board rooms.

There are currently four Hamilton secondary schools named after people and 31 elementary schools.

The four secondary schools are Sir Winston Churchill, Sir Allan MacNab, Bernie Custis and Nora Frances Henderson.

The review of current names, expected to take an entire year, will start in September 2023.

A committee vote went 3-1 in favour of the new policy. Trustee Todd White was the only one voting against.

His argument was that there are some people who deserve to have schools named after them, and the new policy is needlessly limiting.

He referenced the recent naming of Bernie Custis Secondary School as an example. Custis played for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and was the first Black quarterback in pro football history.

Possible schools that will be renamed under the new policy are Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School and Sir Wilfrid Laurier Elementary.

Activists have generally argued that Churchill was racist and anti-union and ought not to be honoured.

Former Canadian Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier, who was of the Liberal Party, is considered controversial for having increased the “Chinese Head Tax” in an effort to decrease Chinese immigration to Canada, among other reasons.

Even schools such as Dundas Valley Secondary School could end up being renamed.

The Town of Dundas’ namesake Henry Dundas, a Scottish politician who lived from 1742 to 1811, had a role in delaying the abolition of the slave trade.

At an April 24 board meeting, trustees gave final approval to the policy change.

Board Chair Dawn Danko said that schools named after certain people can “cause trauma.”

Trustee White was ultimately joined by Trustee Paul Tut in opposing the motion, wanting the board to still be able to consider naming schools after individuals.

The other nine trustees supported the move.

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