A Vancouver man is funding a new scholarship celebrating a Chinese Canadian leader after unsuccessfully trying to change the controversial name of his alma mater.
By email, he had suggested it be named after the late celebrated novelist Wayson Choy, a Gladstone graduate and one of the first openly gay, racialized writers to achieve mainstream literary success in Canada.
“I think (the VSB) hid behind policies, processes, various pilot programs, and it’s been many years that have gone by and we still have the name of the school,” Chu said in a Wednesday interview.
“So one of the things I thought I could do to take action into my own hands is create a scholarship for a graduating student.”
Gladstone Secondary School is named after the late 19th century U.K. prime minister William Gladstone. Gladstone supported the gradual abolition of slavery over immediate emancipation and helped his father obtain compensation for more than 2,500 slaves after abolition in 1834.
In 2018, the VSB convened a group to review its process for naming new schools and renaming old ones, recognizing the legacy of some of the historical figures already chosen “may no longer align with the value of school communities today.” Updated guidelines were developed in 2022, and the VSB said it has not received a request to rename Gladstone Secondary as outlined in that policy.
“The District is committed to following a clear, transparent, inquiry-based process where historical names can be reviewed and considered for possible change,” wrote district spokesperson Jiana Ling by email.
According to Ling, a school can be renamed if it has been approved and funded for full replacement as part of a seismic mitigation program, if the school community advances a formal request, or if the board passes a motion requesting a review of a school name.
“School communities wishing to have their school name reviewed are welcome to submit requests as per the process outlined in AP 541,” she wrote, referencing the 2022 renaming administrative procedure.
The new renaming process is currently being piloted at two schools undergoing seismic replacement: Matthew Begbie Elementary and David Lloyd George Elementary. The new facility replacing Begbie will be called wək̓ʷan̓əs tə syaqʷəm.
Meanwhile, Chu said a committee at Gladstone Secondary will decide who receives the new $500-Wayson Choy Scholarship, which is intended for a graduate who shows promises in writing and is pursuing post-secondary education.
“I thought it was important to celebrate good people who are reflective of the students who go to the school and reflective of our community,” he explained.
“I would absolutely love to see the scholarship expanded if we get more support because I think it’s important. The story of Wayson Choy is not exclusive of this high school.”
Choy’s writing addresses many of the challenges and complexities of living as a visible minority in Canada, coming from a refugee and immigrant family, and trying to walk in both worlds, Chu added.
Chu is not the only person to have requested Gladstone Secondary School be renamed and the idea has been widely supported by students.
Vancouver Kingsway MP Don Davies previously called on the VSB to take action after the University of Liverpool renamed a building that was named after Gladstone.
“In the 21st century I think having institutions that are named after people associated with slavery is simply inconsistent with the values we hold today, and frankly, it’s repugnant to many people,” he told Global News. “It’s something we need to deal with, recognize and change.”
Gladstone Secondary is an “incredibly diverse” school, he added, and it’s “simply wrong” to keep a name associated with white supremacy. He lauded Chu for his scholarship initiative and efforts, and called Wayson Choy an “excellent suggestion” for renaming the school.