UNB law faculty mulls name change after students raise concerns about namesake

University of New Brunswick campus.
University of New Brunswick campus. Jeremy Keefe/Global News

The University of New Brunswick is considering stripping George Duncan Ludlow’s name from its law faculty building after students raised concerns over the Loyalist judge’s connection to slavery and Indigenous abuse.

President and Vice-Chancellor Paul Mazerolle confirmed he received a resolution from the Law Students’ Society asking that the building on the Fredericton campus be renamed.

“As a post-secondary institution committed to equity, diversity and inclusion, I and other members of UNB administration are considering our next steps in relation to naming conventions for UNB buildings,” he said.

A resolution passed by the society last month was transmitted to the administration a week ago, calling for the name to be removed without delay, Molly Murphy, president of the students’ society, told CBC this week.

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Nicole O’Byrne, who is a law professor and legal historian at the university, said the building is named after a Loyalist from New York who in the 1780s became New Brunswick’s first chief justice.

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However, he came from a family of slave traders, and most likely owned slaves himself.

“Even though there’s no direct proof he himself owned slaves, it would be surprising if he didn’t, since he came from a family whose wealth came from the slave trade,” O’Byrne said.

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She said the naming of Ludlow Hall was controversial even in 1968, when the building opened. She said research conducted by a teacher ahead of the opening showed that in 1800, Ludlow had been one of two judges to side with a slave owner in a case that upheld the right to slavery – at a time when other jurisdictions were striking it down. The two other judges in the case opposed him.

“George Duncan Ludlow is one of the two last judges in the British Empire to uphold the legality of slavery…” she said. “It’s not like he was just following along what all the other judges were doing in the empire with regards to slavery, but he decided to uphold it when other courts were deciding it was illegal.”

O’Byrne said Ludlow was also on the board of directors of Sussex Vale Indian Day School, which she said treated First Nations children as indentured servants.

“They would be given by their parents, there would be a contract signed, and they would be given over to the school and would work as labourers in the community for years,” she said.

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O’Byrne said many students began approaching her with their concerns about a year ago, following the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. She said it has prompted a wider conversation about the symbols of Canada’s colonial past and how best to move forward.

“When it comes to truth and reconciliation, we need to start with the truth,” she said.

“It’s not enough for us just to have a name on a building and give it no thought; we actually have to think about these kind of naming practices and learn where we come from and see if it reflects our values.”

With files from Morgan Lowrie