British Columbia

Name change considered for Victoria school whose namesake supported racial segregation

The Greater Victoria School District is asking for input on a potential name change for École George Jay Elementary School, named after a former School Board chair who supported segregating Chinese students in the early 1900s.

District launches survey asking for input on renaming École George Jay Elementary

The public can have their say about changing the name of École George Jay Elementary School in Victoria, B.C. in an online survey available until Oct. 31. (Twitter/Fernwood NRG)

The Greater Victoria School District has launched an online survey to gather input on whether or not to change the name of an elementary school named after a former school board chair who championed segregation in the early 1900s.

École George Jay Elementary School, in Victoria, B.C., is named after George Jay, who sat as board chair from 1907 to 1934. According to current chair Jordan Watters, Jay's past racial policies has some people questioning if the school should bear his name.

Watters said when Jay was appointed he made Chinese students take English tests, even though there were many other students that did not speak English as their first language. In the 1920s, Jay put all the Chinese students in separate buildings. He also refused to hire Chinese labourers to build new schools.

"I've been aware of conversations around changing the name for at least 12 years," said Watters in an interview on CBC's On The Island Monday. "Now we are at a moment where there is the political will, the community energy and the broader zeitgeist — as a lot of communities are having these conversations."

In 2017, two Vancouver schools were renamed to reflect Indigenous communities and in June 2019, the Vancouver School Board removed a plaque commemorating Cecil Rhodes, a businessman who disregarded the rights of Indigenous people, from an elementary school on the city's West Side.  

Watters said this name change feels personal because she now occupies the seat Jay once held.

"This one is particularly important that the district tackle, because George Jay was one of our own," said Watters.

The survey, which is available until Oct. 31 at 4:00 p.m. PT, has just one question. It asks people if they support the renaming, if they do not support it, or if they might support it once they know the new naming options.

"We are looking forward to this process of conversation with the community about how we can right these historical wrongs in the way that feels good."

Watters said a decision should be made by the end of the school year.

An open house will be held at the school, located at 1118 Princess Avenue, on Nov. 6 from 6:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. PT.

With files from On The Island

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