Vancouver school named for general who ran South African concentration camps up for re-naming

Click to play video: 'Vancouver School Board to vote on renaming Lord Roberts Elementary'
Vancouver School Board to vote on renaming Lord Roberts Elementary
WATCH: The Vancouver School board voted unanimously Monday on a recommendation to rename an elementary school named after a Victorian-era British army general. – Jan 30, 2023

On Monday, the Vancouver School Board unanimously approved changing the name of Lord Roberts Elementary, in Vancouver’s West End.

The process was started years ago by the school’s parent advisory council who said the school’s name did not align with the values of the community.

Earlier in January, the Vancouver School Board took the first steps towards a possible name change when the board’s facilities planning committee heard from a report which outlined the community’s concerns with keeping the name.

“For over one hundred years our school has been named after a man who ran concentration camps. He also burned down farms and forcefully occupied the land of indigenous populations, and so was a hero of the British Empire,” reads a post from Ian Rowe, a member of the Vancouver District Parent Advisory Council, who was chair of Lord Roberts’ parent advisory council when the name change campaign was started back in 2019.

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As the motion passed, trustee Janet Fraser said it was the school community that informed her decision to support changing the name.

“I acknowledge the work in the school community of the parents and the staff and bringing this forward. And one of the things that they did was provided quite a detailed information package about who Lord Roberts was and that was certainly influential in helping me understand why his name and his legacy do not reflect where we are as a school district in 2023,” Fraser said.

In 1907, the school was named after Lord Frederick Sleigh Roberts who served as British commander in South Africa during the Second Boer War in 1900.

During his time as commander, he forced Boer commandos into submission through the use of concentration camps and the burning of farms.

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By the war’s end, 26,370 women and children (81 per cent were children) had died in the concentration camps due to malnourishment and disease.

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“For me, it boils down to this: Once you know your school is named after a guy who ran concentration camps, it’s hard to un-know. The school community has been ready for a new name for a long time, one that is place-based and reflects our community. After thinking and talking about it for a long time, I hope it will be West End Elementary,” said Rowe.

While the PAC will now come up with a list of names to submit in the coming months, the final decision on the name will rest with the board.

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