British Columbia

Vancouver school covers up sign of controversial historical figure Cecil Rhodes

In a Vancouver school playground, right under the basketball hoop, a sign bearing the name of a controversial historical figure has been boarded up and hidden from sight.

School board will vote on motion to remove sign completely

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

In a Vancouver school playground, right under the basketball hoop, a sign bearing the name of a controversial historical figure has been boarded up and hidden from sight.

The ultimate fate of the sign — which commemorates Cecil Rhodes, who controlled and exploited southern Africa in the days of the British Empire — at L'Ecole Bilingue Elementary is now being debated.

"From recent concerns brought up from the community, the [school] board and the school has decided to cover up the name Cecil Rhodes for the time being," said L'Ecole Bilingue principal Natalie Morissette.

"This will just allow us to have a conversation as a community about what we want to do moving forward."

The school's parent advisory council initially raised concerns about the sign a year ago.

L'Ecole Bilingue, located near near Oak Street and West 14th, was called Cecil Rhodes School until 1977.

The name plate currently covered up in the playground was originally part of the flooring in the old school building, which was demolished for seismic upgrades.

School principal Natalie Morissette standing in front of the boarded-up sign. She says it'll remain covered while the community and school board decide what to do with the sign. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

'Doesn't reflect our values'

School trustee Jennifer Reddy has submitted a motion to the Vancouver School Board (VSB) to have the sign removed permanently.

"The history associated with Cecil Rhodes' name in that school is something that doesn't reflect our values as a district," said Reddy.

"I was happy to hear from parents that they've been thinking about the same thing and needed some help bringing it forward."

The issue is expected to be discussed at a VSB facilities meeting next Wednesday. A decision of what to do with the sign will be voted on at the following board meeting on June 24.

"My intention is to have a conversation about our role in upholding names like this," said Reddy.

"It's such a good learning opportunity for us."

The nameplate was originally part of the old school building before it was moved outside. The explanation on the boarded up sign reads that the community is grappling with 'how historical wrongs should be recognized' in order to find a way forward. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Rhodes controversy

Rhodes was a British businessman and politician in the mid-1800s, known for his colonial pursuits in southern Africa. He has been accused of racism and paving the way for apartheid. 

The commemoration of controversial historical figures like Rhodes has stirred debate across the world in recent years.

A  #RhodesMustFall protest movement began in 2015 and resulted in a statue of him being removed from the University of Cape Town in South Africa.

That conversation has continued at Oxford University in the U.K., where the Rhodes Scholarship he established still stands.

In B.C., similar discussions occurred last year when a statue of Canada's first prime minister John A. Macdonald was removed from outside Victoria City Hall.

During his time as prime minister, Macdonald's government oversaw the Indian Act in its formative years and established the residential school system

"Some of our history is challenging and really faces us at our core," said Reddy.

"These conversations are not easy but that's kind of the point."

With files from Ben Nelms