British Columbia

Mixed opinions on renaming Victoria, B.C., school because namesake supported segregation

Parents, administrators and community members are trying to decide whether to rename École George Jay Elementary School because its namesake advocated keeping Chinese and Caucasian students separate in the early 20th century.

George Jay school to host an open house Wednesday to hear from public

Parents and community members are trying to decide if they want a new name for École George Jay Elementary School in Victoria, B.C. The school's namesake encouraged racist policies when he was in charge of the school board a century ago. (Kathryn Marlow/CBC)

If a school is named after a man few people remember, but who encouraged racist policies, should that name be changed?

Angela Carmichael thinks so. She's the president of the Parents' Advisory Council at École George Jay Elementary School in Victoria, B.C., and is leading the charge to rename the school. 

George Jay chaired the Victoria school board from 1907 to 1934. He encouraged segregationist policies to keep Chinese students separate from Caucasian students, including testing for English language proficiency.

So the school board launched an online survey on the possibility of renaming in October, resulting in 2,500 responses even though there are only 410 students at the school. Results from that survey have not been released.

The next step is an open house to be held Wednesday evening. 

Carmichael says she didn't know who George Jay was until recently, but that's no reason to carry on his name. She wants to bring his story out into the open so kids know who he was and acknowledge that they can be better. 

Angela Carmichael, shown here with her son Finn, is president of the Parents' Advisory Council at École George Jay Elementary School in Victoria, B.C. She wants the school to change its name because Jay encouraged school policies that were racist against Chinese students in the early 1900s. ((Angela Carmichael) )

"I just want to be part of the change that says we will not stand for racism during any time in our history. And we know better, so we should do better," said Carmichael. 

Not all parents are as sure about the renaming. Some said they're still learning about George Jay so it's too early to form an opinion. Others say it's probably the right thing to do, but they're glad the school board is taking its time with consultations. 

One man hugged Carmichael to thank her for standing up for all students, including his children of Chinese descent. 

Nora Butz went to George Jay Elementary School in the 1950s, not long after immigrating from Hong Kong. She says she feels nostalgia for the school and its name because she learned English there. (Kathryn Marlow/CBC )

At the Chinese Community Services Centre in Victoria's Chinatown, Nora Butz is conflicted. She went to George Jay School in the 1950s, after immigrating from Hong Kong. She said she had no idea who George Jay was, or what his policies had been. 

"Many of us had our first English classes there," she said, "so for us it's kind of nostalgic because that was our school." 

Butz says you can't change history, but renaming the school could be part of acknowledging it. Still, she's not convinced it's necessary.

Community members can have their say at Wednesday's open house at the school located at 1118 Princess Ave. in Victoria from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. If the board decides in favour of renaming, there will be a separate process to choose a new name.

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