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Vancouver School Board and Lord Roberts

The Boer War and Canada’s First Veterans

The Vancouver School Board has voted to change the name of the Lord Roberts School.

They claim Roberts ran concentration camps and targeted Indigenous people. They say renaming schools will help Reconciliation. But are they right? The first Vancouver soldiers to ever fight and die for Canada were led into battle against pro slavery forces in the Boer War by Lord Roberts. Local Black Africans worked with him and our soldiers. Mahatma Gandhi himself personally organized hundreds of medical support workers. Their victory saved countless people from slavery. The Truth and reconciliation Commission of Canada rejects what the Vancouver School Board is doing as ‘counterproductive’, and harmful to reconciliation.

Let’s look at the facts together.

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Back at home, British Columbians waited daily, impatiently for word from the front. Under the intrepid leadership of Lord Roberts, our soldiers broke the Siege of Kimberley. British Columbia was so ecstatic that they named the town Kimberley BC in their honour. One of the people they liberated was Baden Powell the founder of the Boy Scouts. Would the Boy Scouts even exist today without the bravery of our soldiers? It was in this war that the first soldiers in Vancouver history died in combat. Of 17 soldiers from Vancouver, William Jackson and Fred Whitley died while Harry Niebergall and Clarence Thomson were wounded. Young soldiers from Cranbrook and especially Victoria took heavy losses. Sergeant Moscrop, a teacher with the Vancouver School Board, at his own expense, travelled to England to tell Bill Jackson’s sister Nellie about the dignity with which he died and his fondness for her. A young Victor Odlum, who later founded Odlum Brown fought with great bravery. Lord Roberts thanked our soldiers and proclaimed, “Canadian now stands for Bravery, Dash and Courage”. For many years Remembrance Day was not November 11, it was February 27 for the 270 soldiers who died in that war, the first of 120,000 young Canadians who have died for us since that day.

Did Lord Roberts run concentration camps?

After the main battles were won, Lord Roberts returned to London and General Kitchener took over. The Boers enslaved more Africans and adopted brutal guerrilla tactics, inflicting over 1,000 casualties. The word commando was first used here by a young journalist named Winston Churchill. The Boers themselves blame Kitchener, not Lord Roberts, for what we now call Concentration Camps. Kitchener emptied civilians from the countryside into temporary camps to prevent support to the guerillas. When Lord Roberts returned, he refused to have anything to do with running the camps. It was the civilian governments that ran them so poorly that thousands died. Made worse because the Boers bombed the railways and infrastructure so food and medical supplies were scarce.

Many black Africans did not want to live under the Boers and signed up to work for Lord Roberts. A young Mahatma Gandhi sent telegrams of congratulations to Lord Roberts, organizing hundreds in a medical corps, carrying our wounded soldiers on stretchers up to 25 miles. They carried the dead bodies of our soldiers from the field of battle, including Lord Roberts’ own son, for burial where they lie in South Africa to this day.

When our wounded and surviving soldiers returned to Vancouver, thousands of grateful citizens turned out to welcome them back. In honour of their sacrifices, their victory against pro slavery forces, and the bravery they showed in the first war ever fought by Vancouver soldiers, a grateful city named their new school after the General who led them to victory, Lord Roberts. The Vancouver School Board cast their vote just before they returned. The very last surviving soldier of the Boer War died in 1993 in Metro Vancouver after being given a special tribute by our King Charles and his then wife Lady Diana. This is him speaking here…

Does renaming schools help Reconciliation?

Not according to the Reconciliation Commission itself. They say Renaming schools harms Reconciliation. The Chair of the Commission Murray Sinclair explained that it was ‘counterproductive’ producing anger, not harmony, revenge not reconciliation.

I am sure people could find something Lord Roberts did that offends our current sensibilities. He was born almost 200 years ago. Do they realize the comfortable privileged life they live is because of people like Lord Roberts and our veterans? Is the Vancouver School Board practicing Presentism? Judging people from the past with the values of the present. It was a very different world back then. Life expectancy was 47 years, today it is 82. Thirty percent of children died before finishing elementary school, today less than 1 percent die. It is easy for people in our safe, affluent world to feel superior to people in the past who lived such unbelievably hard lives.

Do we remove the names of people because they don’t reflect our values? Remember, there is only one school in Vancouver named after a slave owner who was a racist and brutally killed many of his slaves. I went to that school and I oppose changing the name. Despite his flaws, he played an important role in our history and we should continue to remember Chief Maquinna. In fact, we could learn much from aboriginal communities who always show a deep respect for elders and historic figures regardless of their shortcomings.

For most people, the name of their school brings memories of significant people and life moments. Their teachers, friends, learning new ideas. The school name defines a familiar neighbourhood. Few people think of the original person behind the name. That school name takes on new meanings and links generations together in a common bond. Taking away that name dislocates the sentimental associations and we experience it as a disorienting loss.

Let me be clear. I believe strongly that Romulus was wrong to kill Remus. It was a crime plain and simple and I would never condone murder. However, I do not believe we need to change the name of Rome to cater to my moral instincts or signal my elevated virtue. We can keep Rome and still oppose murder.

Do you think Lord Roberts was a horrible man that needs cancelling?

Or do you think removing his name from the school brings dishonour to our soldiers who fought and died against pro slavery forces in a faraway land? And do you believe, like the indigenous people in the reconciliation process, that the Vancouver School Board is harming Reconciliation with their renaming program? Let me know in the comments. And if you want to join our battle to defend British Columbia and our fallen veterans, sign our petition and subscribe to this channel and get updates.

All of us understand there are situations where a name change is the right thing to do. But let’s have a proper process. Don’t pretend that a replacement building on the same lot is not a renaming. Let’s have a legitimate, neutral historian involved, not a Google search by a bureaucrat or an activist. Let’s allow the alumni and the neighbourhood into the process as names have deeply personal meanings to them. Let’s have all First Nations involved. The Vancouver School Board insider process has given Musqueam names in Squamish territory which has unnecessarily caused problems. A years long 2001 court decision recognized the sole legitimacy of the Squamish on the north side of Vancouver. Why is the Vancouver School Board taking sides in land disputes? Most of all, citizens should know how much a renaming will cost. The Vancouver School Board has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of costs and staff time on renamings, which could have been used to educate children.

Did your ancestors fight in the Boer War?

We need you to speak up for them. Or volunteer to help find the descendants to enlist them in this battle for their honour. As our Vancouver boys lay dying on the battlefield in Africa, with Lord Roberts words ringing in their ears, did they lament that they would never again see the Lions, Stanley Park, the Fraser River and their family and friends in Vancouver, the city that they loved. What would they think if they knew what was happening to their legacy. I have a feeling that they will rest a little easier knowing that you are here fighting so neither they nor Lord Roberts who led them to victory will be erased from our city.