The Calgary Board of Education (CBE) is forming a review committee that will help trustees decide whether to drop name of the country’s first prime minister from a local junior high school.
The board made the decision last week to create the committee, which will consider the name of Sir John A. Macdonald School, founded in 1967, the same year the country celebrated a century of confederation.
More recently, Macdonald’s role in the establishment of the country’s residential school system has spurred a number of communities across Canada to remove his name and likeness from public display.
“Trustees have heard from stakeholders, including students, that it is important that we review the name of the school,” the board said in a statement on Monday.
“Sir John A. Macdonald was Canada’s first prime minister and there is complex history attached to the name.”
The board of trustees passed the motion on Thursday. The name of this school will be reviewed by the committee “to support the board in making an informed decision on whether to change the name.”
Carmen Nielson, an associate professor of history at Mount Royal University, told CBC’s The Homestretch that while MacDonald will always be known as Canada’s first prime minister, she believes it’s no longer appropriate to memorialize him.
She said MacDonald established a disastrous relationship between the federal government and Indigenous communities.
“He stood up in Parliament in 1882 and promised that he would maintain funding at a level that would keep First Nations on the verge of starvation. We know that the results of that starvation policy created widespread disease and death.”
Nielson also noted that MacDonald made other statements that horrified other parliamentarians.
“In the discussion of the Franchise Act, he remarked that it was important to preserve the Aryan character of British North America. That word shocked many people in Parliament and in the Senate because it was explicitly referring to race science,” she said.
The CBE’s committee will be made up of seven people, including two members of the board of trustees, two CBE staff, the school council chair and two independent community members.
The committee’s work will entail:
- reviewing and consider historical research and analysis related to the school name;
- engaging with stakeholders;
- following guiding principles when conducting review and making recommendation(s); and
- providing recommendations to the board.
The final decision, however, will rest with the board of trustees.
Macdonald’s name and likeness has been familiar to Canadians for generations as the country’s first prime minister and an instrumental figure in creating the Dominion of Canada.
But the legacy of the 19th century politician has faced intensifying scrutiny, particularly his role in the residential school system.
Thousands were forced to attend the schools died there and many suffered abuse, according to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The commission heard testimony of the effects that over 100 years of mistreatment had on 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children.