Name change for Waterloo's Sir John A. MacDonald school no quick decision

The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario put a motion calling for school boards to rename any schools named after Sir John A. MacDonald, including one in the Waterloo Region. So the board and trustees will discuss the idea in September.

Trustees for Sir John A. MacDonald Secondary School in Waterloo to ponder name

The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario has voted to urge school boards to remove John A. Macdonald's name from public schools, such as this one in Waterloo, Ontario. (Google Maps)

The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario put a motion calling for school boards to rename any schools named after Sir John A. MacDonald, including one in the Waterloo Region. 

The Waterloo Region District School Board says it will talk about the idea at a meeting in September. 

"We think that the debate around historical figures like Sir John A. MacDonald and their place in our Canadian history is an important one," said Nick Manning, chief communications officer with the board.

"We think as a public board of education, it's a really important place to be having that debate and that dialogue."

Reflecting times

The debate around Confederation's founding fathers comes from what the ETFO referred to as MacDonald's role as the "architect of genocide against Indigenous Peoples."

It's a question that Manning said is crucial to building a "safe and supportive" environment for students at Sir John A. MacDonald Secondary School, known locally as S-Jam.

The job of a public board of education is to change with society and reflect society the way it is telling us to represent them.- Nick Manning, WRDSB

"We want to create safe spaces for our students and for our community," he said.

"That means we really need to pay attention to that shift we see in society and our understanding of our shared history."

As one of the larger schools boards in Ontario, serving around 42,000 elementary students across the region, the WRDSB has to focus on the diversity of its students.

The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario called on all elementary schools in the province to pull the name of Canada's first prime minister from their buildings. Sir John A. MacDonald High School in Waterloo is one of a handful in the province. 5:08

"It's a very sensitive topic and one that we must tread carefully around with the ultimate goal of making sure that we're providing an inclusive education for everybody, which includes Indigenous students, staff and community members," said Manning.

Case-by-case

While the ETFO is calling for the name change of all the schools, Manning said that the WRDSB will be trying to listen to all parties involved before making any decisions.

This includes students, staff and the community, to better reflect the needs of the specific school.

The ETFO is calling for a change in name due to the role Sir John A. MacDonald had in the genocide of Canada's Indigenous population. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/National Archive of Canada)

"The job of a public board of education is to change with society and reflect society the way it is telling us to represent them," he said.

"Names change over time, and they change their meaning and importance, and this is really what we're seeing today across Canada, not just in the Waterloo region, is names and their meanings and their implications are changing."

The WRDSB Board of Trustees meets in September, but Manning said there can't be a timeline placed on discussions, especially when it's focused on the safety and comfort of the community at large.

He said it's going to "take some discussion, and a lot of listening to a number of different people and voices."