Names Matter succeeds in quest to obtain official letter on E.W. Farr issue
BY NATE SMELLE
Speaking to Pelham Town Council on behalf of the Names Matter committee at the Council meeting on Feb. 21, resident Nancy Beamer put forth a resolution urging that the District School Board of Niagara reinstate “E.W. Farr” as the name of the elementary school in Fenwick now called Wellington Heights. Beamer asserted that renaming a school, which previously honoured a beloved local educator, after Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington — a documented racist who was recorded in the British House of Lords in August of 1833 as stating, “We do not want Jews to come and settle here” —does not send a good message to the children enrolled there. She said it also gives other communities a poor impression of the values upheld by the people of Pelham.
“It’s a name that we find repugnant and offensive,” Beamer told Council.
“This same Arthur Wellesley is now attached to our school and our community. We now have his values invading our area. We realize that people cannot erase history, but as we evolve as a society we do not have to continue to honour those whose values are not in line with the values of the present day.”
Reminding Council that Pelham has been a proactive leader in reconciliation long before the word became fashionable, Beamer reminisced on how E.L. Crossley Secondary School’s mascot and logo was formerly the Chiefs. When the community became aware that this name was offensive to indigenous people and others, she pointed out that the logo was removed and the parents and the students adopted the current Cyclone.
“We would like to think that in 2017, we the Pelham community are still striving to inspire our children to go forward and stand up for what is right and proper, and become responsible stewards of the future,” she said.
The only Councillor to support the resolution in its original form, Councillor Marvin Junkin, thanked the committee for their “tenacious pursuit in righting this wrong.” Councillor Richard Rybiak said he agreed with most of the resolution and shares many of the community’s concerns about the DSBN’s decision to rename the school, however he also expressed concerns that the resolution proposed by the Names Matter committee was worded too strongly.
“I think this resolution is meant to strongly encourage the DSBN to hit the reset button to go back to the name that the school had. I believe it is right for us to strongly encourage the DSBN to do that, but to go so far as to make a declaration with regard to Wellington, that is one bridge to far for me, one step too far for me to support.”
Engaging in a thorough discussion revolving around the language of the resolution, Council settled on amending the resolution “strongly requesting” the DSBN to reconsider the name Wellington Heights as a replacement for E.W. Farr Memorial School in Fenwick.
Notably, the following paragraph was removed from the resolution:
“WHEREAS our community finds the name Wellington Heights offensive because Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington, was a documented racist who stated on August 1, 1833 in the British House of Lords on the debate on the Jewish Disabilities Bill “We do not wish Jews to come and settle here,” and was an integral part of the colonial British Government that reneged on treaties with Indigenous people in Canada, as well as being the British Prime Minister when Britain established residential schools in Canada.”
Following Council’s unanimous approval of the amended resolution, Councillor Peter Papp commended Beamer and others for their campaign against the DSBN’s decision to rename the school.
“I strongly encourage you to continue to fight for what you believe is right,” Papp said to the gallery.
“It’s important that you stand up. We have seen it over and over again at this Council that the will of the people sometimes wins. But, if you don’t put that forward you will never know.”
The resolution will be presented to DSBN Trustees and the Director of Education for consideration at their next meeting, in March.
It has also been sent to MPP Sam Oosterhoff, MP Dean Allison, the Minister of Education, The Honourable Mitzi Hunter and the Minister Responsible for Anti-Racism, The Honourable Michael Coteau.