UWindsor weighing 'appropriateness' of residence building named after John A. Macdonald

The University of Windsor says it is reviewing the 'appropriateness' of a student residence building named after Sir John A. Macdonald after a petition circulated calling on school administration to rename the building. 

Macdonald Hall is one of three residences on campus named after former prime ministers

The former Macdonald hall is one of three residence buildings on campus. All of them are named after Canadian Prime Ministers. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

The University of Windsor says it is reviewing the "appropriateness" of a student residence building named after Sir John A. Macdonald, after a petition began circulating calling on school administration to rename the building.

"I'm glad that they've finally taken the time to, at least, recognize the issue that's been brought forward," said Sophie Morrow, an Indigenous student at the university from the Kettle and Stoney Point First Nation.

John A. Macdonald Hall, locally known as Mac Hall, is one of three residences on the university's campus — all of which are named after former prime ministers.

Despite having the honour of being Canada's first prime minister, Macdonald's legacy has come under fire in recent years in part because he authorized the creation of the residential school system.

The University of Windsor says it's reviewing the 'appropriateness' of a residence building named after John A. Macdonald. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

People have been calling for statues of Macdonald to be removed in several cities across Ontario and across the country in recent days, 

"As a person of colour, I have seen and experienced first hand the effects of discrimination," reads an excerpt from the petition written by University of Windsor alumnus Hale Ferrer.

"He designed the residential school system, removed children out of their homes to be 're-educated,' abused, raped, mutilated, sterilized and starved ... The name Macdonald was a stain in Canadian history and attached to oppression."

Hale Ferrer, an alumnus of the University of Windsor, says he was unable to participate in anti-black racism protests because of a health condition. The petition calling for the renaming of Macdonald Hall was his way of making a difference. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

Ferrer said he was inspired by the recent anti-black racism protests being held but was unable to attend them because of health issues. 

"I figured, why not do something different and [in] another way?" he said. 

A personal meaning

Morrow ended up living in Macdonald Hall during her first year at the university.

"I didn't get to choose, because I was accepted a little bit late," Morrow said.

"I asked if I could switch and unfortunately there was no room and so I was just kind of stuck there for my first year and it wasn't exactly horrible, but I just kind of had that sitting in the back of my brain the whole time." 

She said Macdonald's name carries a personal meaning for her and her family.

Sophie Morris is from the Kettle and Stoney Point First Nation. She says she wasn't comfortable being placed in Macdonald Hall in her first year at the university. ( Jacob Barker/CBC)

"My grandmother went to a residential school as a child and she was abused. She was not allowed to speak her language," Morrow said.

"My family doesn't know our Ojibway language because of what happened to her. So it was very disheartening to live in a building named after a man who started all of this."

Statues aren't a way to teach history, they're a way to honour and any way you put it, the first prime minister is not honourable.- David Pitawanakwat

According to a Thursday media release issued by the University of Windsor, the school's board does provide oversight for the instituion's naming policy. 

Morrow would like input from those who are directly affected by the residence building's name.

"Are they going to ask the students [for] their input? Are they going to include the Native Student Alliance, the.. Indigenous Law Club?" she said.

"I feel like that's really important, people want to know what they're talking about." 

A global issue

David Pitawanakwat, an Indigenous law student at the University of Windsor, recently wrote a petition to replace the statue of Christopher Columbus in Detroit "with a real hero".

Earlier this month, the city removed the statue that had been in place for over a hundred years.

Pitawanakwat, who refuses to even say the name of Canada's first prime minister, said it's important to think of the issue of these names and these buildings as a global one.

David Pitawanakwat called for a statue of Christopher Columbus to be replaced in Detroit. He says there are more appropriate stories and heroes to commemorate than people like Columbus and John A. Macdonald. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

"People all over the world right now and especially young people, are waking up to the realization that the history they've been given is at best a mischaracterization and, at worst, a flat out lie," Pitawanakwat said.

"Whatever you could name these buildings, there's so many local heroes and local stories that you could choose to honour." 

He said there are some people who think that changing names or removing statues is a way to change history, but he argues that isn't the case. 

"Statues aren't a way to teach history, they're a way to honour and any way you put it, the first prime minister is not honourable," he said. 

Pitawanakwat suggested the university rename the building "Tecumseh Hall" while Morrow suggested naming it after former Canadian Detroit Red Wings player Gordie Howe.