Windsor

New Mercer St. school could be named after city's first black alderman, James L. Dunn

A new school set to replace Giles Campus French Immersion on Mercer Street could have a name as early as next week. Members of the new school's naming committee are currently in the process of deciding on the name, with a vocal group pushing to name the school after the city's first black alderman James L. Dunn.

Naming committee sending 4 names to the board of trustees for consideration

Members of the committee tasked with proposing names for a new school on Mercer Avenue say they're hoping to honour Windsorite and black activist James L. Dunn. (Jason Viau/CBC)

A new school set to replace Giles Campus French Immersion on Mercer Street could have a name as early as next week. 

Members of the new school's naming committee are currently in the process of deciding on the name, with a vocal group pushing to name the school after the city's first black alderman James L. Dunn.

Born in 1848, Dunn moved his family to Windsor in the 1860s where he started a successful business. He was the first black person to serve as a school board trustee. Dunn also unsuccessfully sued the Windsor Board of Education in an attempt to send his daughter to a white school, rather than a segregated black school. 

Dunn's name was put forward by both Kristen Siapas —  one of two parent-representatives on the naming committee — as well as David Van Dyke — one of two community representatives on the same committee.

James L. Dunn was Windsor's first black person to serve on council. (Courtesy of Windsor Mosaic)

"What he did is very significant," said Van Dyke. "He had a chance to accept the court's ruling … but instead he spent his own money, put it through court, became an alderman, became a trustee and then was instrumental in making the schools fair for everybody in the community."

Siapas said that naming the new Mercer Street school after Dunn would not only honour his legacy, "but would also connect with someone who was specific to this neighbourhood and specific to this part of the community."

"I think for a lot of members in the committee, the most important thing that we want to honour is the heritage and history of this neighbourhood, and we can do that by naming it after James Dunn," she said. 

At the same time, naming the school after a historical figure would distinguish the institution from other schools with more "conceptual" names, said Siapas. 

Other recommendations for names are Ambassador Public School, Ensemble Public School or Heritage Public School. Although they may be names that everyone can connect with, Siapas said they are not necessarily names that speak to the history of the local community. 

Van Dyke said a survey published on Sunday has generated more than 200 responses — 75 per cent of which have voted in favour of naming the new school after Dunn. 

Public school board chairperson Ron LeClair says schools can be named after real people. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

For his part, Ron LeClair, chair of the Greater Essex County District School Board, said it's possible to name the school after a real person, though there are some caveats. 

"We'd have to get family support if we're picking somebody's name," he said. "We'd also have to do appropriate research to make sure that the name is appropriate."

Nonetheless, Siapas said she was confident the committee could move forward with proposing Dunn's name.

"We're talking about somebody who made an impact in this community, who continues to make an impact in this community with their story," she said. "And it's a story that's highlighted even in the board's own curriculum for Black History Month."

"To me, there's no better fit."

The naming committee has narrowed its list to four names, which should be presented to the board of trustees next Tuesday.  

LeClair said it's possible that the board of trustees will be able to select a name during the meeting. 

"We would normally decide that day, unless there's a decision to refer back to committee," he said. "

On Wednesday, Ward 3 Coun. Rino Bortolin — whose riding covers the new Mercer Street school — wrote in support of naming the building after Dunn. 

 

"Kudos to Kristen for not only pushing this idea, but also reaching out to the broader community seeking public input," he wrote in a Facebook post. "Great leadership by the Parent Council chair. Three of the four names are very generic and mean nothing to the area."

Bortolin added that naming the school after Dunn "anchors its history in the Mercer Street area."

"As this proceeds to the board for approval, this is a no-brainer to support," he wrote. 

With files from Jason Viau

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.