Sign bearing name of controversial British colonialist covered up at Vancouver school
A sign that marks a piece of Vancouver history that currently sits on a school basketball court was boarded up Tuesday morning, as the Vancouver School Board decides if the monument to Cecil Rhodes should remain.
The sign that was covered was once a piece of flooring from the old Cecil Rhodes School, which opened in 1910 where L’Ecole Bilingue Elementary School sits now, near Alder Street and West 14th Avenue.
Rhodes was a British politician and businessman who was heavily involved in South Africa during the latter half of the 19th century. He helped establish diamond mining giant De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd. and served as prime minister of Cape Colony—present-day South Africa—between 1890 and 1896.
Rhodes died in 1902, but to many, including Vancouver School Board trustee Jennifer Reddy, his legacy is that of racism.
"Cecil Rhodes was a leader in the establishment of systemic and institutional racism towards black people in Southern Africa," Reddy wrote in a Tweet on Monday. "Any further upholding of names like Cecil Rhodes in our district make us complicit in his legacy."
Simon Fraser University English professor, Jonathan Smith told CTV News Rhodes is "allegedly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Africans."
L’Ecole Bilingue principal Natalie Morissette says the decision to cover the sign Tuesday was made along with the school board. The school’s Parent Advisory Council had first raised the issue last year.
“I would say we need to rethink what this piece means as a community,” Morissette said, noting the diversity of the students at the school.
Morissette says the next step will be to get feedback on whether or not the sign should stay or go through a meeting with the community
“Just engage in some conversation with the community on how we can go and move forward,” Morissette said. “It’s important to hear from staff and the parents from the school and perhaps people who are attached to the school in different ways.”
She says students have been curious about why the sign has been boarded over, and says school staff will be speaking with students.
The sign itself reads: ”This piece of the school’s former staircase is covered after concerns were raised about it bearing the name of the school. This will allow time to support and engage with the school community about how historical wrongs should be recognized and together find a way forward.”
There’s been a growing international movement questioning monuments like this one.
"One of the biggest reasons for the re-evaluation has been over people’s positions relative to white supremacy," Smith says.
He said there are a lot of monuments out there "to people who did really bad things."
Smith said he has yet to see an example of a statue being removed of a person who didn’t deserve it.
"People worry that this sort of thing is a slippery slope. Oh no, if we get rid of Cecil Rhodes who is next?" he said. "I have yet to see a case where there wasn’t a good justification for doing so."
Reddy is bringing a motion about the sign to the next Vancouver School Board meeting as she pushes to have the sign removed for good.
“Cecil Rhodes does not represent the values of our district nor contribute to the wellbeing of students, staff, families, and communities in our district,” Reddy tweeted.
The Vancouver School Board says conversations are now being planned with the school’s PAC to discuss the matter.
With files from CTV News Vancouver's Allison Hurst