In 2017, Calgary renamed what was once known as Langevin Bridge – a busy steel link between the north and south sides of the Bow River – Reconciliation Bridge.
But just a few hundred metres away, the past four years have been a different story. A public kindergarten to Grade 9 school, coveted by many Calgary families for its strong, science-focused curriculum, has still borne the name of Sir Hector-Louis Langevin.
The Confederation-era cabinet minister played a prominent role in the early days of the country, including the colonization of the Canadian West, and the development of residential schools. As awareness of the horrors endured by Indigenous children separated from their families and cultures have become better known, students at the school have pushed back against the name, along with staff and community groups.
The Calgary Board of Education announced suddenly on Tuesday morning the Langevin name will come off the school. The decision could be the thin edge of the wedge as institutions named for historic figures associated with the residential school system are subject to new scrutiny – following news of the discovery of the remains of children at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in B.C.
The Kamloops residential school’s unmarked graves: What we know about the 215 children’s remains, and Canada’s reaction so far
The CBE, one of the largest school districts in Western Canada, said it convened a special board meeting on Monday evening. It passed a motion to erase the Langevin name and revert to a moniker decades old, Riverside School, “effective immediately.”
“The tragic discovery in Kamloops and the reaction shared by Canadians has emphasized the importance of reconciliation and the need to demonstrate our commitment to the students we serve,” the board said in a statement.
CBE trustee Richard Hehr said he’s been hearing concern about the Langevin name for all his four years as a trustee, and has long pushed for a change. But he said the board has tried to balance the issue specific to the science alternative program school with the need for a process to allow for possible name changes of other schools, as well.
The announcement from the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc of the discovery of unmarked graves has “awakened the consciousness of Canadians,” Tsuut’ina Chief Roy Whitney said in an interview on Tuesday.
“Canadians are seeing the atrocities that occurred, the inhumane conditions that have been reported, and how our people were treated in a system of genocide,” said Mr. Whitney, the leader of the Tsuut’ina Nation at Calgary’s western border. He said his First Nation will be doing its own investigation into the Sarcee Boys’ Boarding School (also known as St. Barnabas), located on reserve lands, which ran until the early 1920s.
Changing the name of Langevin school in Calgary is a start, Mr. Whitney said. But the federal government needs to step up and release far more information about the students who attended residential schools.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 2015 report quoted Sir Hector-Louis Langevin defending the government’s residential school system, which the commission called an act of “cultural genocide.”
With the news from the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc reverberating around the country, there are now calls to remove the namesake Bishop Vital-Justin Grandin – who brought Roman Catholicism to the West – from a high school in Calgary, a boulevard in Winnipeg and an LRT transit stop in Edmonton.
On Monday, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi called for the Langevin and Grandin names to be taken off Calgary schools, as an act of reconciliation.
“You know sometimes we go slow until we go fast,” Mr. Nenshi told reporters a day later, responding to the news of the Langevin name change.
If the “heartbreaking revelation” of last week is what it takes for society to spur itself to real action, he said, “that’s a good thing because we’ve been waiting far too long.”
But in Edmonton, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney spoke out against “cancelling Canadian history” and said the country needs to learn from the complexity of history, both successes and wrongs of the past.
He prefaced his comments to reporters by saying he wasn’t aware of the details around the CBE decision. However, Mr. Kenney expressed concern that if every historical figure is judged by modern standards, “I think almost the entire founding leadership of our country gets cancelled.”
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