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Two Halifax-area schools unveil new names after efforts to lose controversial namesakes

File - Sir John A. Macdonald High School in Upper Tantallon will be renamed Bay View High School when the school year begins in September 2021. Alexa MacLean/Global News

Two Halifax-area schools will lose their controversial namesakes and have new identities this fall when students return.

Sir John A. Macdonald High School in Upper Tantallon will be renamed Bay View High School, while Tallahassee Community School in Eastern Passage will be called Horizon Elementary School.

Both are shedding their old names after ongoing controversy.

Read more: Nova Scotia’s Sir. John A. Macdonald High School to change its name for inclusivity

In the case of Sir John A. Macdonald High School, the process to change its name began last fall, after a years-long discourse on Macdonald’s legacy.

“We have heard a lot of support from students that had been pushing for this to be happening for years now, who have always advocated for this change, and they’re very happy and proud to be at the school at the time that this is happening,” said Grace Alberts, student council co-president, in a video statement.

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The decision was made “so that every student that walks through the door feels welcome,” school principal Darlene Fitzgerald told Global News in November, 2020.

Fitzgerald said for Indigenous students, having Macdonald’s name on the wall isn’t welcoming and doesn’t make them feel safe.

Click to play video: 'Debate over memorializing John A. Macdonald' Debate over memorializing John A. Macdonald
Debate over memorializing John A. Macdonald – Aug 31, 2020

In recent years, statues of Canada’s first prime minister have been taken down and his name removed because of his role in the creation of Canada’s residential school system

To rename the high school, a committee was struck and suggestions for new names taken from the students, parents and community members.

The suggestions — which included joke submissions and efforts to keep Macdonald’s name — were whittled down and eventually voted on.

Nearly half of the staff and students chose Bay View High School. 

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“I’m nothing but proud of what we have been able to accomplish. Indigenous people have always been put second or last, and today we’re putting them first,” said Iowa Firth, student council co-president, in a video statement.

Tallahassee Community School’s name linked to Confederate ship

Meanwhile, steps to rename Tallahassee Community School began in spring 2020, when concern was raised that the name had connections to slavery and anti-Black racism.

A report from the renaming committee notes that Tallahassee was named after a Confederate state ship from the American Civil War.

“After careful research, the School Advisory Council passed a unanimous voted to form a TCS School Renaming subcommittee; with a mission to develop a new, inclusive identity, where all students, staff and community members feel affirmed and valued,” the committee wrote.

The committee was formed in December 2020, and suggestions were taken from staff, students and the community.

The goal was to find a name that reflected the catchment area communities, refrained from using the name of a person or family, and was inclusive of all students.

Part of the committee’s work was outlining how the school was bestowed its original name.

Read more: N.S. Indigenous community supports Sir John A. MacDonald school name change

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CSS Tallahassee arrived in Halifax in August 1864 from Wilmington, North Carolina, as part of a 19-day raid under Commander John Taylor Wood of the Confederate States Navy. According to the committee, there was “strong sympathy” for the Confederacy among businessmen in Halifax who profited from dealings with the Confederate states.

It notes “the majority of the 11 newspapers in Halifax at the time voiced strong opposition to the ideologies and actions of the Confederates.”

The Tallahassee was set to return to the Confederacy after refueling, but heard Union ships were waiting to sink it once it left port.

So, in the middle of the night, the Tallahassee escaped through the Eastern Passage in the pitch black, guided by a local pilot boat captain named John “Jock” Flemming.

“Jock was a neutral party; whose knowledge and navigational expertise were second to none,” the committee’s report states.

In 1958, a newly-built elementary school in the community was named Tallahassee “in recognition of the historic feat of navigating through the Eastern Passage.”

That name carried on to the new Tallahassee Community School when it was built in 1992.

But over the years, there have been repeated discussions and attempts to remove the Tallahassee name from the school, because of its connection to slavery.

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“We are proud of the research we conducted in relation to the origins and history of our school name. It has been a deep learning experience for us all,” said Michelle Myers, chair of the school advisory council, in a statement.

“By renaming our school, we are eliminating a barrier that can be interpreted as racist and solidifying our commitment to being part of the solution to build an equitable society.”

Rocky Lake Elementary keeping name

Rocky Lake Elementary in Bedford will be keeping its name moving forward.

The school was given the temporary name when it opened in September 2020, with the understanding the school and community would look for a permanent one.

Four potential names were put forward, and the overwhelming decision was to stick with Rocky Lake.

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