York Region District School Board (YRDSB) trustees voted to remove Sir John A. Macdonald from the one of its schools in Markham, already taking the first step and removing the name from the signage outside the front of the building.
The trustees voted on Tuesday at a special board meeting in response to a presentation put forward on renaming the school in the wake of the discovery of almost 1,000 unmarked graves at residential schools across the country including an estimated 751 at a former Saskatchewan residential school and 215 at another one in Kamloops, B.C.
The board said the decision was made in accordance with the policy that “requires school names to be based on principles of equity and consider the culture, history and accomplishments of the school(s) affected.”
Macdonald was the first Prime Minister of Canada and supported the creation of the residential school system and “created policies to starve Indigenous people, to remove them from their homes on the plains to allow for railroads and settlement of non-Indigenous people,” the board said in a statement on Wednesday.
YRDSB is the third largest district in Ontario with over 128,000 students in 180 elementary schools and 33 secondary schools.
The board said the renaming process will begin in the fall and will include consultation with the Chippewas of Georgina Island and local school community.
“Reviewing the names of our schools is an important part of our commitment to creating safe, welcoming and inclusive learning spaces for all of our students,” said board chair Cynthia Cordova. “Students, staff and families at this school can feel proud of being a part of this ongoing learning and part of a school community committed to equity, inclusivity and Truth and Reconciliation.”
YRDSB isn’t the first board to make a decision to change the name of a school in wake of the school discoveries.
A motion was passed that was brought to the Limestone District School Board in Kingston to change the name of the École Sir John A. Macdonald Public School in mid-June. The interim name will be Kingston East Elementary School.
In early June, trustees with the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board voted unanimously to rename Ryerson Elementary School on Robinson Street at Monday night’s board meeting. The school’s namesake Egerton Ryerson was one of the architects of the residential school system.
Ryerson University is also under pressure to change its name. A statue of Ryerson was recently toppled by demonstrators and the school said it would not be replacing it.
Minister of Education Stephen Lecce recently said the province’s curriculum on Indigenous issues will be rewritten and expanded to include topics such as “lived experiences.” However, critics were quick to point out the Ford government cancelled a rewrite of the curriculum in 2018.
—With files from Alex Mazur and Lisa Polewski