Decision to dump Robson name lauded

Bill Chiu of the Canadians for Reconciliation Society -
Bill Chiu of the Canadians for Reconciliation Society
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A Chinese reconciliation activist is happy the New Westminster school board has decided to reverse its decision to name a new middle school in honour of a former premier he believes was racist.

John Robson elementary, built in 1928, will be torn down this fall to make way for a new middle school at Eighth Street and Royal Avenue. At a Jan. 21 committee meeting, trustees voted to keep the John Robson name for the new school.

But instead of finalizing that decision at the board’s regular meeting a week later it was shot down.

“We certainly are glad [naming the new school after Robson] did not happen,” said Bill Chu of the Canadians for Reconciliation Society. “It is not a very glorious thing. As a general rule some of the previous premiers of this province are not suitable for naming.”

Robson represented New Westminster in the legislature before becoming premier in 1889, a post he held for nearly three years. Chu said although Robson was known for his support of women’s rights, he actively campaigned against the Chinese.

Chu cited examples of Robson saying the Chinese were “a most undesirable class and were not wanted in this country at all,” and that the Chinese should be discouraged from coming to Canada in order to encourage those who were “our own flesh and blood.”

Chu said it was understandable why in the past some schools and other institutions were named after people who advocated for what today’s society would consider abhorrent beliefs, but there’s no excuse these days.

“With all this knowledge I don’t think it’s appropriate to use those names like McBride, Robson, Dunsmuir as school names,” said Chu. “Not that we want to revise history, but history the way it was should be respected.”

Trustee Casey Cook, who along with vice chair Michael Ewen was unable to attend the earlier committee meeting, didn’t want the Robson name to be used on a school mere blocks away from the city’s original Chinatown.

“I understand the danger, and sometimes the fallacy of using 21st century standards to apply to 19th and 20th century people, however, we’re making this decision in the 21st century. And we’re not taking a name off of a school, we’re putting it on a new school,” said Cook.

Back then decisions were products of their times, he said, noting “my dad believed stuff I don’t believe, and my dad was a good man.”

Cook also maintained naming it after Robson would be inconsistent with the district’s other middle school names—Queensborough and Glenbrook—which have a geographic theme.

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