Growing calls to rename Winnipeg school over namesake’s link to apartheid

By | June 13, 2020

WINNIPEG — A Winnipeg school’s name is raising concerns over its namesake’s link to apartheid.

Cecil Rhodes School was founded on Elgin Avenue back in 1909.

The school is named for Cecil Rhodes, a prominent 19th-century British figure.

His accomplishments landed his name on the Winnipeg school, but his history isn’t without fault. His policies while Prime Minister of the Cape Colony, a British colony in what is now South Africa, paved the way for apartheid.

“Hearing about Cecil Rhodes and what he has done and his background and criteria, I have a hard time being okay with his name to be on an educated school system building,” said Aaron Sinclair, a parent at Cecil Rhodes School.

Aaron Sinclair is one of many parents at the school who thinks it’s time for a new name.

That’s why a teacher from another school division who once had a job interview at the school, created a petition to change it.

“I think leaving his name on the school leaves it in a place of honour instead of acknowledging values have changed,” said Jill Sutherland, the petition creator.

The petition has gathered more than a thousand signatures in only a few days. Sutherland said the petition isn’t about erasing history.

“We should absolutely remember why the school was named after Cecil Rhodes in the first place, and we should document the change,” said Sutherland.

The school board trustee representing the ward has taken notice of the growing movement.

“I see this as an opportunity to revaluate who we choose to honour and why,” said Jennifer Chen, Ward 6 Trustee of the Winnipeg School Division.

Chen is putting forward a motion to start name changing consultations.

She said she’d like to see the students heavily involved in the discussion of a new name – something Sinclair and his grade 7 daughter agrees with.

“I think that’s the best way. I believe especially with our youth if we can’t educate them, if we can’t fix our past, I don’t know how we can move ahead with the future,” said Sinclair.

Trustee Chen’s motion will be read for the first time on Monday, and then be up for debate at the next board meeting, likely in September.

Back in June of 2019, a Vancouver public school removed Cecil Rhodes’s name from its campus.

There is also debate at Oxford University in the U.K., where there are calls to remove a statue of Cecil Rhodes.

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