Langevin School in Calgary is going back to its old moniker.
Monday, the Calgary Board of Education’s (CBE) board of trustees met and decided to revert the school’s name back to Riverside School, effective immediately.
The school carried the neighbourhood’s name until 1936, when CBE decided to rename it for Hector-Louis Langevin.
“Due to the events of the last week or so and the revelation that has come out of Kamloops, the board released a statement on Sunday and came together yesterday to talk about whether there was something that we could do swiftly around the name of Langevin School,” Marilyn Dennis, chair of the board of trustees for CBE, told Global News.
Dennis said the board had been working on a policy around naming and renaming schools, adding “over the last few months, we’ve been putting our foot on the gas with it, so to speak.”
The hope was to have the policy completed to be able to apply it to renaming Langevin School, but the discovery of unmarked burial sites outside the Kamloops Indian Residential School spurred the trustees to rename the school before the policy was complete.
“We certainly heard from members of the community, from students and families, that they wanted us to take leadership in this, that they simply wanted the name of Langevin School changed,” Dennis said Tuesday.
“And so we did take this opportunity to revert the name back to Riverside in the hopes that the reverting back to the former name not only respects the history of the school, but also gives an opportunity, we hope, for the school to move forward in a positive way and create a new identity for itself.”
The move also comes after a renewed call for both the CBE school, and Bishop Grandin High School in the Calgary Catholic School Division (CCSD), to be renamed after ground-penetrating radar found the remains of 215 Indigenous children.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who on Monday called for both school boards to rename the schools, said he was happy to see CBE take action.
“I’m sure that their next steps will be to work with the Indigenous community to make sure this is done properly, to make sure that the students and faculty and staff go through a process and ceremony to make sure this is right,” Nenshi told reporters Tuesday. “The other thing that I would suggest is perhaps Riverside School may be a temporary name, and there may be a better way to name the school to acknowledge history.”
In early 2017, Calgary city council approved changing the name of Langevin Bridge to Reconciliation Bridge, a change made during a ceremony on May 26, 2018.
Nenshi said the name for the bridge was “carefully chosen with the knowledge keepers.”
‘A small step in reconciliation’
Student members of the Change Langevin group heard about the school’s name change during a virtual assembly.
Riverside School Grade 8 student Joy McCullagh said the decision “might be a small step in reconciliation.”
“But it’s an important one that I’m glad we have been working towards,” McCullagh told Global News. “I feel like it’s important for people to be educated about this. Before I started this, I didn’t even know who my school was named after.”
The group has been advocating for the school’s name change since shortly after Langevin Bridge was renamed Reconciliation Bridge in 2018.
Seth Helfenbaum said his fellow students had mixed feelings about the announcement, but added he’s learned a valuable lesson.
“We’ve learned to never give up,” Helfenbaum said Tuesday. “If someone shuts it down, don’t just give up.”
Michelle Robinson, niece of a residential school survivor and member of the Change Langevin group, welcomed the change from CBE.
“(CBE) finally felt shamed into changing it,” Robinson told Global News. “I definitely think those of the grave spoke the loudest and that’s why they changed it. And I want to honor those 215 and the community that they come from.”
Robinson doubted the CBE’s statement saying the change was done based on feedback from the community.
“They’ve shown to me that they don’t listen to the voices of the families, Indigenous and non-Indigenous.”
She added the public school board didn’t appear to want to show leadership on this matter of reconciliation.
“I don’t believe that this is something from the school trustee: leadership,” Robinson said. “I think that this was a shaming by the rest of the country that they were forced to (change the name of Langevin school.)”
‘Not a new conversation’ for Catholic school division
The mayor also said he had spent part of Tuesday morning speaking with the CCSD’s board chair Mary Martin, getting an update on the process to rename Bishop Grandin High School.
“(CCSD) has been engaged for some time, for several months, in a respectful conversation with Indigenous communities about the right way to move on this,” Nenshi said. “They are committed to recognizing the role of the faith in residential schools in the history and making sure that students are educated for that, and in making sure that they do this the right way.”
“This was not a new conversation for them,” the mayor added.
In an release on Monday, CCSD said “when it comes to the possible renaming of a CCSD school(s), the board of trustees will be considering feedback from stakeholders such as parents, staff, students, Catholic Bishops and Elders in our Indigenous community.”
Dennis said the current board was not opposed to changing the school’s name, but wanted to have that policy in place.
“We’ve never been opposed to changing names of schools,” the CBE board chair said. “But for us, the real work ahead of that would be able to come up with that policy piece and that procedure piece so that we could do it and do it in a way that is a good tool for the board, but also make it clear to the public around what that process would look like.”
Those policy changes are going to be considered at a public board meeting later this month.
Nenshi said despite 13 years passing since Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized for residential schools on behalf of the federal government and six years since the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was published, “it would be churlish to say: ‘too little, too late.’”
He suggested that this could be an opportunity to address the proposed provincial curriculum and how it addresses the country’s legacy of residential schools.
“At this moment in history, we are lucky that we have the chance right here, right now, today to impact the curriculum that children are taught,” Nenshi said.
“If your heart was broken this week, if you are educating yourself, if you are teaching your kids, it’s also time to take political action and it’s time to reach out to the provincial government and tell them to scrap the curriculum and to start with something more respectful.”
Dennis estimated the cost to change the name at about $40,000 and would come from the CBE budget. She also said the stories of people like Langevin will continue to be told, but the board hasn’t figured out the specifics yet.
McCullagh doesn’t want Langevin’s legacy to be lost.
“I don’t think that we should forget about the name,” she said. “I think we should learn from what he did and learn about that.”
–with files from Adam MacVicar, Global News