As Ucluelet Secondary School students get set for their holiday break, the debate over the name of their school wages on.
Following a new naming policy spurred by a Port Alberni school being named after controversial figure A.W. Neill, School District 70 announced it was considering changing Ucluelet Secondary’s name to be more inclusive of the students who travel from other communities to attend, including Tofino.
The school board recently released two possibilities: Pacific Rim Secondary and West Coast Secondary.
School board chair Pam Craig explained that those two names are strictly suggestions and other names could also be considered.
“We’re not voting on them. It’s an opportunity to make a suggestion. Those were the names that came forward as the trustees discussed possibilities. And, they do reflect the region and they do [have] a bit more inclusiveness of the West Coast or Pacific Rim,” Craig told the Westerly News. “There may be a whole lot of others people would like to see and maybe they don’t want anything different. But, this is an opportunity and we want to take the opportunity when the school is being regenerated.”
The provincial government made a massive funding announcement in June when B.C.’s Minister of Education Rob Fleming arrived in Ucluelet and committed $45 million to a partial replacement of USS and seismic upgrades at neighbouring Ucluelet Elementary School.
Craig said that rebuild would lead to a new school environment for USS students.
“There’s an opportunity here, let’s take advantage of it. It’s going to be a different school. Kids are going to be so excited to be in a new environment and, in my way of thinking, it’s really a renewal and oftentimes a rebranding will help to perpetuate that excitement,” she said.
She said a cost-estimate for the name change should be known in January, but noted new signage would be needed for the school regardless because of the rebuild.
“Things aren’t as difficult nowadays with technology to make letterhead changes and things like that,” she said. “Anything we’ve talked about is quite minor, it’s not a huge cost.”
Craig said feedback will be collected throughout the winter and the board expects to make an official decision in February.
“People may have a different idea, they may have suggestions they’d like to bring forward and we’ll consider those and it’s actually up to the seven members of the board to make the final decision,” she said. “People are thinking. People are making suggestions and, again, we’ll take all of those suggestions into consideration before we make a decision.”
The feedback window is open to anyone and a new email address has been created for residents to have their say about the school’s name at namechange@SD70.bc.ca.
Jen McLeod is one of the residents who wrote in, expressing her opposition to changing the name. McLeod has two children attending Ucluelet Elementary and hopes both will get to attend Ucluelet Secondary.
“As a taxpayer and as a parent, I think it’s a waste of money,” she said. “I think that there are better things that could be done with the money it would take to [change the name]. Getting new school equipment and improving our programming would be a better use of taxpayers money…There’s nothing wrong with the name. It falls under their guidelines already of naming it after a region and I feel that it’s not inappropriate. I don’t think it’s exclusive to call it Ucluelet Secondary School.”
Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation member and resident of Ty-Histanis, Hjalmer Wenstob is a graduate of Ucluelet Secondary School and a father of two young children. He told the Westerly he doesn’t feel a name change is necessary and questioned the two suggestions the school board has put forward.
“I think, more than anything, it’s just tiring to me. Do we really need to change the name at this point in time? And, if we are changing the name, why aren’t we discussing giving it a traditional Nuu-chah-nulth name? Why isn’t that discussion even really happening?” he said.
“I was surprised that the two options we were posed with were two locational names, not ones that have any call to Nuu-chah-nulth history or even a nod…I thought it was about this path towards reconciliation or decolonization and, instead, it was just changing the name from Ucluelet to something else that encapsulates the West Coast. I think that’s pretty tiring.”
Municipal councillor and lifelong Uclueletian Lara Kemps told the Westerly her uncle was a member of USS’ first graduating class and she’s urging residents to have their voices heard by sending their thoughts to the school district.
“Our school name has history behind it, not only does Ucluelet mean ‘people of the safe harbour’ in the Indigenous Nuu-chah-nulth language, many of us from Ucluelet, Tofino and surrounding communities have gone to school here. We are proud to say where we went to school and I am certain my children will feel the same,” she said.
“I believe this time and expense could be better spent on many things that benefit our children instead of this ‘re-branding’ exercise. We are just fine thanks, put the money into our children’s education.”