What’s in a name? School identities come from a rich history

By Ian McKechnie

Central Senior Public School in Lindsay. Photo: Ian McKechnie.

Ontario’s students have returned to their classrooms this month after a long period of remote learning. As they make their way off school buses or cross the threshold of school foyers, few may pause to consider how their school got its name.

Of the 23 schools overseen by Trillium Lakelands District School Board within Kawartha Lakes, eight are named for the communities they serve (e.g. Bobcaygeon Public School, Woodville Elementary School); four evoke the surrounding geography (e.g. Parkview P.S., Rolling Hills P.S.); another eight honour prominent local citizens (e.g. Kirkfield’s Lady MacKenzie P.S. and Little Britain’s Dr. George Hall P.S.); and three are named after royalty (Queen Victoria P.S., Alexandra P.S. and King Albert P.S., all in Lindsay).

So how did schools come to be named as they are?

The earliest designations were not especially creative. For the better part of a century, one-roomed schoolhouses were denoted by a number indicating their school section within the county, followed by the name of the township in which they were situated. Thus S.S. No. 5 Eldon served school section number 5 in Eldon Township (Bolsover and area); S.S. No. 8 Somerville served school section number 8 in Somerville Township (Burnt River and area) and so forth.

As the one-roomed schools closed during the 1960s, the consolidated schools which replaced them often carried on the tradition of naming the school after the host township: Fenelon Township P. S. and Mariposa E. S. are two such examples. Within town or village limits, school names were often more ingenious — particularly after Canada’s centennial year in 1967, when renewed appreciation of Canadian history pushed many decision-makers to name schools after titled citizens with local connections: Omemee’s Lady Eaton E. S., named for the philanthropicallyminded wife of a prominent retail magnate. The school opened June 8, 1967, half a century after titular honours ceased to be bestowed on Canadians.

A few years prior, the school board formally restored the name Queen Victoria P. S. to what had for decades been known as the East Ward School or the Victoria School. Why this focus on royalty? As monarchs ceded political power to parliaments in the 18th and 19th centuries, they came to be identified with civic leadership: granting patronage to the arts and other worthy causes, visiting hospitals and impartially imparting wisdom to elected officials. Naming a school after a sovereign or a member of their immediate family was thought to encourage good citizenship and loyalty to the Canadian state and its institutions — especially its public education system — while also avoiding the divisiveness inherent in naming a school after a politician.

Alexandra P. S., named in 1910 for the queen consort of King Edward VII, continues to take inspiration from its namesake: “Our school,” says Alexandra P.S.’s website, “was named after this gifted and generous soul. She is an inspiration to us and we trust our school motto would meet with her approval: ‘Of whom much is given, much is expected.’” (King Albert P. S., formerly called the South Ward School, was not named after a member of the House of Windsor or any of its preceding dynasties, but after Belgium’s King Albert I, in honour of his leadership during the First World War.)

When politicians entered the picture, the naming (or renaming) process could prove contentious. “Let us leave him in the history books on the shelves, and not put him on the front door,” exclaimed P.R. Hill of Sir Sam Hughes, the controversial Member of Parliament for this area between 1892 and 1921. Hill’s comments were directed at George Inrig, who was chairing a heated meeting of the Lindsay Public School Board on June 15, 1967, where discussion about renaming Central Senior School dominated the agenda. “Sir Sam was a member of the federal cabinet at a very critical time, and he was knighted,” Inrig insisted. “I feel this warrants the naming of a school after him.” Inrig’s idea was ultimately voted down, and Central Senior remains affixed to that Edwardian-era building. (Few, by contrast, appear to have questioned the decision to name a school after a sitting MPP, Leslie Frost, 12 years prior, who was also an Ontario premier.

Only one school has been formally renamed in recent times. Ops E. S., opened in 1966, was renamed in 1994 to honour the late Jack Callaghan, a dedicated trustee who had committed years of hard work and energy to ensure the school met the educational needs of local children and youth. “The request of the local board for the name change readily received the approval of the Ministry of Education,” remembers Ivan Goodhand, who served as principal from 1991 through 1998.

“At the school level, the students eagerly welcomed an opportunity to get involved in the fun and the challenge to consider a new mascot befitting the name change, and new school colours tagged along with the initiative,” Goodhand recalls. “Discussions and creative ideas emerged among both staff and students,” he continues, with ‘Callaghan Cougars’ ultimately settled on as the mascot of choice.

New schools may well emerge as our community grows. What names might Advocate readers have in mind for them?

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