Calgary Catholic trustees vote unanimously to rename Bishop Grandin High School

·3 min read
Bishop Grandin High School in southwest Calgary will be renamed in the fall.  (Google Maps - image credit)
Bishop Grandin High School in southwest Calgary will be renamed in the fall. (Google Maps - image credit)

WARNING: This story contains details some readers may find distressing.

The Calgary Catholic School District's board of trustees has voted unanimously in favour of changing the name of Bishop Grandin High School, named for one of the proponents of residential schools.

The school will go through a naming process in the fall as though it were a new school without a name, but until then the school will temporarily be called Haysboro Catholic High School.

Trustees said this was one of the most difficult and important decisions they've made as a board, agreeing it was the right thing to do.

Step toward reconciliation

"I do not doubt that Bishop Grandin, as an early missionary, had good intentions in his work with the Indigenous people. But I also do not doubt that residential schools of which he had a hand in have considerably caused great damage to our indigenous brothers and sisters," said Trustee Pamela Rath.

"As a Catholic, as a human being, I believe in reconciliation. I believe in forgiving and forgiveness. I believe in being responsible and taking responsibility."

Manitoba Historical Society
Manitoba Historical Society

Trustees said the renaming work to come also holds great weight.

"The actions that will follow from this decision will be just as important in how we move forward with this action of renaming," said trustee Cheryl Lowe.

In the late 1800s, Bishop Vital-Justin Grandin lobbied the federal government to fund the construction of residential schools.

A committee led by district elder Wanda Firstrider, and made up of administrators and school council members will be in charge of the renaming process this fall.

Community reacts

Cora Voyageur, a sociologist with the University of Calgary and a member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, said she's pleased to see these types of renamings happening across the country.

"This is a good first step of taking away the spotlight or giving honour to people that cause so much harm to the Indigenous community," she said.

Voyageur said while she appreciates the due diligence taken by the board in engaging with its elders, she wishes the decision had happened quicker.

"The fact that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's report has been out for six years and there's a whole volume that talks about the unmarked burials and missing children from residential schools that didn't come home," she said.

"This is something that we've known, and I'm expecting there's going to be a secret cemetery attached to every residential school in Canada."

Mayor Naheed Nenshi applauded the board's decision.

"This kind of symbolism really does matter. It may seem small, but it does matter," he said.

"They seem to have done so in the right way. They talked to elders. They got some advice. They put a temporary name in place for now until they can properly rename the school with proper ceremony. That all feels right."

Earlier this month, trustees heard reports from administration, members of the public and the district's Indigenous team on the possible renaming of the school.

Both parents and the Indigenous team ultimately said renaming the school was what they hoped trustees would decide to do. At the time trustees deferred their decision.

Grandin name removed in Edmonton

The Grandin name was also removed Monday from an Edmonton Catholic elementary school.

Edmonton Catholic trustees also voted in favour of removing a mural paying tribute to Grandin on the side of the school building. Workers started removing the mural shortly after the motion was approved.

The Calgary Board of Education changed the name of Langevin School at the beginning of June. Students and community members had been advocating for the change for years, but it wasn't until the discovery of what are believed to be the unmarked burial sites containing children's remains, adjacent to a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C., that the board finally acted.

Hector-Louis Langevin was one of the Fathers of Confederation and a Conservative cabinet minister, serving as secretary of state for the provinces when the country's residential schools were introduced. He is considered an architect of the residential school system.

Support is available for anyone affected by the lingering effects of residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

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