George Jay School in Victoria is one tangible reminder of Judge Jay’s contributions to early justice on the Island. (Submitted)

George Jay School in Victoria is one tangible reminder of Judge Jay’s contributions to early justice on the Island. (Submitted)

T.W. Paterson column: ‘Erasing history’: unfinished business from 2019

Both of these men served the bulk of their careers in public office

Both of these men served the bulk of their careers in public office, having been elected by the general public again and again and again.

Last year I told you about a failed movement in Port Alberni to rename A.W. Neil Elementary School which honours former city mayor, MLA and MP, Alan Webster Neil.

Mr. Neil has belatedly fallen out of favour for his oft-expressed vitriol (much of it preserved on public record) against Asian immigrants while also having championed working people, unemployment insurance and the original Canada Pension Plan.

But, these days, as in the much more publicized case of Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald who’s been publicly debunked for his key role in creating residential schools, the positives no longer are thought to balance the negatives.

Coincidentally, a similar drama is being enacted in Victoria where support appears to be growing for changing the name of George Jay Elementary School. In this case, George Jay was the school board (1907-1934) chairman and police magistrate who vociferously opposed and actively resisted Chinese-Canadian children receiving a public education. He insisted that they pass an English test before being admitted, a challenge he made to no other nationality or ethnic group, and strongly promoted segregation.

Last month, the Times-Colonist reported that an online poll of 2,500 people conducted by the Greater Victoria School District indicated that 50 per cent of those who responded to the survey were in favour of dumping George Jay. Thirty-seven per cent were opposed and almost 13 per cent said they might be more supportive of change if they knew what the alternatives were.

You’d never know of any controversy by George Jay Elementary’s warm and fuzzy website: “Inclusive, warm and focused on the whole child, École George Jay connects children and their families to a world of learning and caring. It is a place where our students have an opportunity to learn and develop empathy and understanding in a school community as diverse as our society itself. [my italics—TW]. Our academic program is focused on the individual child’s learning needs and accomplished through caring teachers, use of technology and innovative approaches to learning.”

The school’s namesake, George Jay (1861-1940), must be spinning in his grave at such blasphemy!

Himself an immigrant, from Norfolk, England in the 1880s, the son of a Cariboo gold seeker, Jay became a lawyer, stipendiary magistrate in small claims court then police magistrate, and served on the school board in 1905 and then as board chairman for 27 years. Among his other accomplishments, Jay helped to establish a juvenile court and Victoria College (today’s University of Victoria).

Back in August, Nicole Crescenzi wrote in the Sooke Mirror:

“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 [but] despite his impressive resume, he held darker tones as well.”

She cited the 2011 book, Contesting White Supremacy-School Segregation, Anti-racism and the Making of Chinese-Canadians, UBC Press, by author, historian and University of Ottawa professor Timothy J. Stanley who makes the case that George Jay “was instrumental in instilling racial segregation of Chinese-Canadians…”

According to Stanley, 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.”

Jay’s push for segregation of all students of Chinese heritage — even those who spoke perfect English — “sparked a year-long strike from Victoria’s Chinese community”.

For all the turmoil, Jay had no problem with the christening of the new Princess Street elementary school in 1910 when it was named for himself!

None of this pleased George Jay Elementary Parent Advisory Council (PAC) president, Angela Cooper-Carmichael, who asked: “Isn’t it time to change these irrelevant colonial names? The land that George Jay sits on is unceded [sic], so it’s still the transitional land of the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations.”

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

Prompted by the information provided by Prof. Stanley, Cooper-Carmichael approached 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,” before putting it before a meeting of the GVSD in September.

She told the Mirror that her discussions with parents and representative members of the First Nations showed an interest in pursuing the name change.

Some of those who responded to the survey were opposed to “erasing history,” and others suggested choosing a new name that recognizes Chinese-Canadians and First Nations while acknowledging George Jay with a plaque.

Cooper-Carmichael insisted that her crusade isn’t about colonization: “We have a rich history that reaches far beyond George Jay and you and me, and that’s a history we should share.”

As of last month, according to the T-C, the GVSD is seeking community input on whether to rename the school so as to “better align with current district values and policies around diversity and inclusive-learning communities.”

We’ll have to wait to see how these dramas in Port Alberni and Victoria play out. But there’s something to keep in mind when we set out to “correct” our history, particularly in these two cases which are based upon posthumous rejection of Neil’s and Jay’s overt racism. Both of these men served the bulk of their careers in public office, having been elected by the general public again and again and again. Theirs weren’t voices in the wilderness — they had to have been expressing the latent sentiments of the majority of their constituents.

For this we can hold them personally accountable after the fact and demote them from public favour if not from memory. But let’s not ignore the silent quiescence of their generation. It was the so-called silent majority who kept Jay and Neil, out and out bigots that they were, in public office all those years.

Still think that history is just about ‘the old days’?

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Cowichan Tribes members line up at a drive-up clinic on Wednesday, Jan. 13 to receive the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in the region. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
BCAFN condems racism against Cowichan Tribes after COVID-19 outbreak

“Any one of us could do everything right and still catch the virus”: Regional Chief Terry Teegee.

Dr. Shannon Waters, the medical health officer for the Cowichan Valley Region, is reminding people to stay the course with COVID-19 measures. (File photo)
‘Stay the course’ with COVID measures, Island Health reminds

Limit social activity, wash hands, wear a mask, and isolate if you feel sick

Cowichan Bay tennis player Grace Haugen takes part in an exhibition at the South Cowichan Lawn Tennis Club in 2019, which also included Canadian legends Frank Dancevic and Daniel Nestor. Haugen has committed to further her career at the University of Montana starting next fall. (Citizen file)
Cowichan Bay tennis player prepares for next step in her journey

Grace Haugen commits to University of Montana

Police and fire crews at work at a fire scene at Mount Prevost School (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Classes cancelled for Mount Prevost students today

Second school fire in five days for North Cowichan schools

Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the press theatre at the B.C. legislature for an update on COVID-19, Jan. 7, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 spread steady with 509 new cases Friday

Hospitalized and critical care cases decline, nine deaths

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada’s top doctor says to avoid non-essential travel as B.C. explores legal options

Premier John Horgan says he is seeking legal advice on whether it can limit interprovincial travel

Nursing staff at West Coast General Hospital celebrate the announcement of a $6.25-million expansion of the emergency department that will start in March 2021. (File photo)
B.C. health ministry commits $6.25M to hospital expansion in Port Alberni

Plans for larger emergency department have been on hold since 2015

Seasonal influenza vaccine is administered starting each fall in B.C. and around the world. (Langley Advance Times)
After 30,000 tests, influenza nowhere to be found in B.C.

COVID-19 precautions have eliminated seasonal infection

Martin Luther King Jr. addresses the crowd during the march on Washington, D.C., in August of 1963. Courtesy photo
Government announces creation of B.C.’s first anti-racism act on Black Shirt Day

B.C. Ministers say education “a powerful tool” in the fight for equity and equality

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon shared a handwritten note his son received on Jan. 13, 2021. (Ravi Kahlon/Twitter)
Proud dad moment: B.C. minister’s son, 10, receives handwritten note for act of kindness

North Delta MLA took to Twitter to share a letter his son received from a new kid at school

Black Press media file
Port McNeill driver tells police he thought the pandemic meant no breathalyzers

Suspect facing criminal charges after breathalyzer readings in excess of 3.5 times the legal limit

Forestry companies in B.C. agree to abide by the cedar protocols based on traditional laws of the First Nation members of the Nanwakolas Council. (Photo courtesy, Nanwakolas Council)
Landmark deal sees B.C. forest firms treat big cedars like a First Nation would

Western Forest Products, Interfor among companies to adapt declaration drafted by Nanwakolas Council

A northern resident killer whale shows injuries sustained by a collision with a vessel in B.C. waters. (Photo supplied by Ocean Wise Conservation Association)
Coast Guard ramps up protections for B.C. whales

First-ever Marine Mammal Desk will enhance cetacean reporting and enforcement

Most Read