New name will replace ‘George Jay,’ who was a segregationist school board member

›› Mila Czemerys

Fernwood’s elementary school will have a new name in the coming years and it will be a Lekwungen name—in the language of the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations.

In 2019, the Parents Advisory Committee of George Jay Elementary School created a petition to change the name of the school. The school’s current namesake, George Jay, was a part of ­creating Chinese segregation in the ­Victoria public school system and other racist policies in the early 1900s.

In 2020, the School District ­convened a committee to review the name of George Jay Elementary following ­public ­consultation where the community expressed great interest in renaming the school.

The committee reviewed research and listened to the voices of community members, including George Jay staff and an Elders Advisory Council. The School District reached out to the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations to see if they would be interested in renaming the school with a Lekwungen name. Both Nations expressed support and interest.

“The Songhees and Esquimalt Nations look forward to participating in the ­renaming of George Jay Elementary. By joining this project and sharing a piece of Lekwungen culture, the children, students, and residents of Victoria can experience a part of our traditional ways,” said Karen Dick-Tunkara, Councillor of the Songhees Nation.

“The vulnerability of this work requires trust and time on behalf of both Nations. By taking the time to rename an ­institution, we can begin a healing process for our ­children and families, who must deal with many barriers in a colonial ­education ­system on a day-to-day basis.”

“Language is the foundation of our culture. Our children and the children of others who learn and hear our language develop a strong identity and connection to our way of life. The renaming of George Jay Elementary is an important step to ­realizing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action to preserve and revitalize our language,” shared ­Esquimalt Nation Chief Robert Thomas.

“During the era of residential schools, children were forbidden to speak their home language and if they did, they were subjected to punishment. The renaming of George Jay Elementary in Lekwugen is our way to honor those children whose voices were silenced and is the first step toward revitalizing our culture, our history, and our Sacred Trust.”

This name change is a welcomed step forward.

“Grace Wong Sneddon, chair of the Victoria Chinatown Museum Society, says the renaming honours the Chinese ­students who were excluded from Victoria schools in the 1920s.

She said acknowledging the wrongs of the past helps us know where we come from, and that by speaking up and ­calling for change, students will learn to take responsibility and do better.

And this is the piece I see that is ­happening,” she said, “that the renaming of George Jay Elementary School is all the voices together of all our communities, all the diverse communities making noise to have a better change. And that’s why I’m so excited.”*

Currently, the Nations have selected ­representatives who will be working with the School District to co-create the ­processes around renaming protocols. The work is anticipated to begin in the Spring of 2023.

A new name for the school is expected to take shape in the 2023/24 school year.


*Marlow, Kathryn “School in Greater Victoria will get new Lekwungen name.” CBC [Victoria], March 8, 2023