Port Alberni’s A.W. Neill Elementary will be getting a new name, after school board trustees voted to remove the former mayor and MP’s name from the school.
Albert Webster Neill, who represented the area in the House of Commons from 1921 to 1945 and served as a member of the B.C. legislature, was known as an advocate of blue-collar workers, but was widely considered racist for his efforts to deny voting rights to Asian immigrants, his support of anti-Chinese laws in the B.C. legislature and his approval of Indigenous residential schools.
He had a covenant placed on his home to keep it from being sold to Asian people. The covenant was removed this year.
The Alberni School Board voted this week to approve the change, but there is no timetable for how long the renaming process will take, said trustee Rosemarie Buchanan.
She said she would like the name to be chosen by the end of June, so it can be in place for the 2020-21 school year.
Buchanan said there have been a few suggestions for what to call the school, including naming it for adjacent Kitsuksis Creek.
Kitsuksis is an Indigenous word meaning “log across the creek,” she said.
“And the school is on Compton Road, but we don’t know who Compton was.”
Buchanan said the board will create a committee made up of teachers at the school, students, support workers and parents to come up with a new name.
“We really want to hear from the people who are in the school now.”
There will also be Indigenous representation on the committee. Buchanan said she would like to see Japanese representation because of Neill’s attitude toward Japanese-Canadians.
“My personal preference is to find a Japanese word for the school,” she said. “But my mind is open to suggestions.”
Buchanan initially brought the name issue to the attention of the school board about five years ago, after speaking with a former Port Alberni resident who did a university paper on Neill.
“I was just dumbfounded when I found out who A.W. Neill actually was.”
The renaming decision follows a decision last month by the Greater Victoria School Board to rename George Jay Elementary because of Jay’s views about Chinese students.
A renaming committee could make a decision by June.
Jay was school board chairman from 1907 to 1934, and during that time initiated such policies as requiring Chinese elementary students to pass an English test to get into public schools — something that did not apply to other nationalities.
He also directed Chinese students in public schools to be moved to sites on Kings Road and in Rock Bay, which led to a strike by the students that lasted for a year.
— With files from the Canadian Press