Toronto-area school board removes Sir John A. Macdonald's name from school

A sign in front of the school formerly known as Sir John A. Macdonald Public School is seen on July 7, 2021. (YRDSB)

Trustees at a school board north of Toronto have voted to rename Sir John A. Macdonald Public School as part of Indigenous reconciliation efforts.

The York Regional District School Board says it made the decision after presenting a report to rename the school at a special meeting on Tuesday.

Board chair Cynthia Cordova says the school's community is committed to equity, inclusivity and truth and reconciliation.

The Markham, Ont., elementary school of about 425 students was named after Canada's first prime minister when it opened in 2012.

Macdonald is considered an architect of the country's notorious residential school system that took Indigenous children from their families in an effort to assimilate them.

Cowessess First Nation recently said that ground-penetrating radar detected 751 unmarked graves at the former Marieval Indian Residential School.

The news came not long after the discovery of what are believed to be the remains of 215 children in Kamloops, B.C. Two First Nations also reported finding unmarked graves with the remains of 182 people close to a former residential school in Cranbrook, B.C.

The York school board says it will begin the renaming process in the fall, which will include consultation with the Chippewas of Georgina Island and the local school community.

"Reviewing the names of our schools is an important part of our commitment to creating safe, welcoming and inclusive learning spaces for all of our students," Cordova said in a statement.

The report detailed reasons behind renaming the school. It pointed to Macdonald's role in creating the residential school system and policies he helped create to starve Indigenous people, remove them from their homes to build a railroad and make space for the settlement of non-Indigenous people.

It also noted Macdonald's role in denying citizenship to Chinese immigrants and support for legislation that excluded them from voting.

"As a school board committed to truth and reconciliation, it is essential that we engage in learning, listen to Indigenous voices, and take the right steps in response to that learning," said Louise Sirisko, the board's director of education.

"We also have a responsibility as an educational organization to model what it means to listen, learn and take action to create a better future."

The board said it has removed Macdonald's name from the school's building and its signage.

Macdonald's likeness has been removed from various public spaces over the last year.

A statue of Macdonald was removed in the Township of Wilmot last summer. On Tuesday, four other statues of former prime ministers were removed as part of a healing and reconciliation process.

In mid-June, Kingston city council voted to remove Macdonald's statue from a city park with the goal of putting it up at the cemetery where he is buried.

His name was also removed from a Kingston school last month.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 7, 2021.