British Columbia

Change proposed for Vancouver school named after U.K. prime minister with links to slavery

William Gladstone, namesake of Gladstone Secondary, was a member of a family that owned over two thousand slaves in the Caribbean.

Local MP says it's time to drop names like Gladstone that are associated with crimes against humanity

Gladstone Secondary School is pictured in Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday. The school's namesake, William Gladstone, served 12 years as prime minister of the U.K. in the late 1800s and belonged to a slave-owning family. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

As calls to decolonize B.C. grow against the backdrop of anti-racism and Black Lives Matter movements, NDP MP Don Davies says Gladstone Secondary School needs a new name.

"I think it's time that we looked at renaming institutions of higher learning and other important buildings that have been named after people associated essentially with crimes against humanity and really odious policies," said Davies about the school in his Vancouver-Kingsway riding.

The school's namesake, William Ewart Gladstone, belonged to a family that owned over 2,000 slaves who worked on Caribbean plantations where the Gladstones made their fortune. 

Gladstone served 12 years as prime minister of the United Kingdom in the late 1800s and spoke against the abolition of slavery during his early years as an MP.

Davies doesn't have a new name in mind for Gladstone Secondary, but points out there are hardly any Vancouver schools commemorating women and few named after Canadians.

"Certainly there are a lot of very inspiring Canadian figures who are reflective of Canadian values and diversity and a modern image that we would like our young people to be proud of," he said.

Last year the Vancouver School Board voted unanimously to remove a sign commemorating Cecil Rhodes at L'Ecole Bilingue.

A sign commemorating Cecil Rhodes is covered up with plywood at L’Ecole Bilingue. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Rhodes was co-founder of the De Beers diamond company and a leading British imperialist who helped seize great swathes of land in southern Africa during the late 19th Century.

Earlier this year, Port Alberni school trustees voted to remove the name of former mayor and MP A.W. Neill from an elementary school because of his racist history of denying rights to Indigenous people and Asians.

The Vancouver School Board told CBC it hasn't received a request to change the name of Gladstone. However, renaming is possible "should a school community feel a school's name no longer serves the community and the school."

Name changes, it said, can be initiated by school administration, staff, students, the parents' advisory council or district staff.

Davies went public with the idea after learning the University of Liverpool was finally giving in to a long campaign by students to rename a building on campus known as Gladstone Hall.

"Given the mass movements against racism right now, it's a very opportune time," he said.

With files from Yvette Brend


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