St. Albert’s Vital Grandin Elementary school will have a new name this fall, Catholic school trustees have decided — one without links to one of Canada’s chief promoters of residential schools.
Greater St. Albert Catholic trustees voted unanimously June 28 to rename Vital Grandin Catholic Elementary School. The new name will be chosen by an ad-hoc committee by Sept. 30.
Vital Grandin Catholic opened in 1959 and was named after Bishop Vital-Justin Grandin, a prominent figure in St. Albert history.
Grandin was also a central figure in the creation of Canada’s Indian residential school system — a system that tore at least 150,000 First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children from their families and put them in schools to be stripped of their language, culture, and often dignity. At least 4,100 of them died in those schools.
The recent discovery of hundreds of children buried in unmarked graves at the former Kamloops and Marieval residential schools brought renewed focus on Canada’s residential school legacy and calls for the names of supporters of those schools to be stripped from public landmarks.
GSACRD trustees struck a committee earlier this month to review the names of all schools in the district that was to report back by Aug. 31. That committee recommended a new name for Vital Grandin Catholic.
Right thing to do, say trustees
Trustee Joan Crockett noted how Grandin led the campaign to create Canada’s residential school system, citing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report.
The Commission noted that Grandin was convinced Canada’s Indigenous peoples faced extinction, and that the only efficient way to save and “civilize” them was to start with the children. In an 1880 letter, Grandin argued that letting Indigenous youths live with their parents would not work, as they would simply learn the ways of their parents.
“To become civilized (the children) should be taken with the consent of their parents and made to lead a life different from their parents and cause them to forget the customs, habits, and language of their ancestors,” Grandin wrote.
Although Bishop Grandin supported the Métis during the Riel Rebellion/Resistance and cared for the dying during the smallpox epidemic of the 1870s, he was also instrumental in setting up residential schools that traumatized many Indigenous families, Crockett said.
“Leaders who champion residential schooling can no longer be namesakes of our schools," Crockett said.
Crockett moved to appoint a committee to rename the school, which would involve trustees, a priest, parents, superintendent Clint Moroziuk, school administrators, and community members, and to have them select a new name by Sept. 30.
“It is the most respectful and healing thing to do.”
Board chair Noreen Radford supported the name change, saying the name Vital Grandin no longer reflected the district’s goal to create an inclusive, caring, welcoming learning environment for all. Changing this name would not undo the harm caused by residential schools, but would bring the district one step closer to addressing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.
In a press release, GSACRD officials said exterior signs with the Vital Grandin name would be removed immediately.
Trustees did not suggest any new names for the school. Under the board’s naming policy, schools were to be named in honour of the Divinity, a Catholic tradition, a group or person officially recognized by the church (typically a saint), or an outstanding Catholic figure.
GSCARD’s decision mirrors similar moves by the Edmonton and Calgary Catholic boards to remove Grandin’s name from their schools.
Vital Grandin Catholic was one of the many roads, neighbourhoods, buildings, and businesses named after the former Catholic bishop in St. Albert. St. Albert city council is set to consider re-examining these and other place names this fall as part of its 2022 budget debate.