Parents at George Jay Elementary are advocating for the change of the school’s name after learning of its namesake’s history. (File photo)

Parents advocate for change of George Jay Elementary name, citing racist history

The namesake was an advocate for the segregation of Chinese-Canadian students

Parents at George Jay Elementary are advocating for the change of the school’s name after learning of its namesake’s history.

George Jay was born in England and immigrated with his parents to Victoria in the late 1800s. He became a lawyer, and was elected to the city school board in 1905, becoming the chair shortly after and holding the role for 27 years. He held several roles as a city magistrate, and was also instrumental in the establishment of Victoria College, which later became the University of Victoria.

Despite his impressive resume, he held darker tones as well. In the short book, Contesting White Supremacy- school segregation, anti-racism and the making of Chinese-Canadians, author and historian Timothy J. Stanley reveals that George Jay was instrumental in instilling racial segregation of Chinese-Canadians at the school. The book was published through the University of British Columbia in 2011, though Stanley is now a professor at the University of Ottawa.

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According to the book:

“[George Jay] suggested that the board return to its 1907 policy that ‘no Chinese be admitted to the schools unless they know English sufficient to make them amenable to ordinary class room discipline,” and that “Chairman Jay had long made his career by advocating segregation and had in fact helped develop the 1907 policy.”

The segregation was applied to all students of Chinese heritage, even if they spoke perfect English. This sparked a year-long strike from Victoria’s Chinese community.

Despite all the uproar, Jay decided to name the school after himself in 1910.

After learning about this history, George Jay Elementary Parent Advisory Council (PAC) president, Angela Cooper-Carmichael was outraged.

“Isn’t it time to change these irrelevant colonial names? The land that George Jay sits on is unceded, so it’s still the transitional land of the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations,” she said.

“The student population is so diverse at George Jay now, but he wouldn’t have allowed half of our students to attend.”

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Cooper-Carmichael reached out directly to Stanley for more information, and has since also reached out to the Esquimalt and Songhees First Nations, the City of Victoria and Victoria’s Chinese community for more input on what they think should be done.

She’s also bringing the idea to an upcoming PAC meeting for an official vote, and to the upcoming Operations and Planning Meeting for the Greater Victoria School District on Sept. 16.

Cooper-Carmichael said so far most parents, and representative members of the First Nations she’s spoken with are interested in pursuing the change.

“When do you think history began?” she said. “It’s not with colonization. We have a rich history that reaches far beyond George Jay and you and me, and that’s a history we should share.”

The PAC will put its decision to a vote on Sept. 11.

nicole.crescenzi@vicnews.com


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