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Stevestonite suggests renaming elementary school to reflect local history

The Richmond School District is planning to update its policy on naming its facilities in the new year.

One Stevestonite of Japanese ancestry would like to see Lord Byng elementary renamed after a female Japanese teacher.

Kelvin Higo, chair of the Steveston Japanese Canadian Cultural Advisory Committee (SJCCA), has approached the Richmond Board of Education to rename the Steveston elementary school after Hide Hyodo – who taught at Byng before she was interned during the war - to reflect the contributions of the Japanese community in the area.

“My purpose would be to name it after (Hyodo) because there are so many things she was the first of - she was the first teacher in Richmond to be of Japanese ancestry, and I suspect she was the first teacher of any ethnicity other than Caucasian,” Higo said.

The Richmond Board of Education is reviewing its school naming policy early in 2022 and board chair Sandra Nixon said the idea is to have an updated process that’s “clear and transparent” and supports the school district’s commitment to “equity and specifically, to addressing bias, privilege and systemic discrimination.”

The current policy was adopted in 1990.

Hyodo was a Canadian-born teacher who was asked to teach at the Japanese school in Steveston in the 1920s, although her Japanese language skills were spotty.

After teaching in Steveston for 16 years, she was interned in 1942 and then spent the war years overseeing seven internment camp schools – and training other teachers - in the Kootenays, for which she later received the Order of Canada.

In 1936, she was part of a Japanese-Canadian delegation that went to Ottawa to lobby for the right to vote.

Higo said this isn’t a part of the “woke culture” movement, rather he’d like to see a reflection of local history in the names of local buildings like schools.

“I see this as a collaborative (effort) with the PAC (parent advisory committee) and getting opinions,” Higo said. “I don’t want to force my opinion on anyone – I just think it’s a good opportunity to recognize a significant woman in our community, especially from an ethnic origin.”

He sees it as the advancement of the “cultural wars that we always face.”

“You see it advance and ebb and flow over time – you see it ebbing the United States as more things get racialized,” Higo added.

Unlike the United States, Higo sees Canadian culture in a period where citizens are becoming more aware of historical prejudices.

“I think we need to work together to overcome some of these things, especially here in Richmond because we have such a diverse community,” Higo said.

Higo approached the school district about his idea of renaming Lord Byng elementary, and he said he’ll be making a broader presentation when the policy comes up for review.

Higo said the school district tends to be “too insular,” often just consulting the local PAC and its own stakeholders.

“Whereas I feel (renaming schools) should be a wider community discussion – because the school sits in the neighbourhood and the neighbourhood should also have a say in what happens,” Higo said.

Lord Byng, also known as Viscount Byng of Vimy, was a field marshal in the First World War and later Governor-General of Canada. 

The SJCCA recently donated $2,000 to Lord Byng elementary - $1,000 for a mural that is being done at the school and $1,000 to update the Hide Hyodo Memorial Garden at the school.

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