Trustees get failing grade for by not naming school after Alexander Won Cumyow

A group of parents and students at Crosstown elementary were unconvinced that renaming the school in order to honour a historical member of our community was a worthwhile transition.

Alexander Won Cumyow was a community leader in the face of adversity, the first person of Chinese descent to be born in Canada, and his name would have been much more representative of the heritage and history of the area in which the school is situated. Unfortunately, a group of school trustees decided against the change, resulting in a loss for all.

Imagine the loss of both academic and representative leadership for the students today and into the future. Imagine the relationships with Chinatown residents and the wider Vancouver community that will be that much harder on which to build and reflect. Imagine the international links with schools, teachers, and students that might have otherwise been. Imagine the pride of generations of kids who would know they attended the first school in Vancouver to acknowledge our long-standing and deeply rooted Chinese community in a time of proposed reconciliation, when we have the opportunity to have these discussions and make these decisions as a community growing together.

Seven Vancouver schools are named after British lords, three after British explorers, three after British generals, six after British kings and queens, and one after a former premier of Manitoba. But not one Vancouver school honours our Chinese-Canadian heritage. It is a waste and a shame.

Just steps from the Chinatown Gate, Crosstown would have been a perfect place for the first school to acknowledge our Chinese community. Let this moment remind us about what is at stake and face these conversations and decisions that will undoubtedly lead us to more inclusive spaces.

We must begin to set a precedent for recognizing that Vancouver is home to a diversity of voices and creating meaning beyond debased, arbitrary neighbourhood names. Where better than in education to explore these opportunities in meaningful ways and together define what our communities can be.


Jennifer Reddy is a member of the OneCity education caucus.

This article can also be found online at the Georgia Straight.