‘Makwendam has meaning’: New name given to Ryerson Public School in Burlington

Ryerson Public School in Burlington, Ont., has been renamed Makwendam — an Anishinaabemowin word meaning “to remember,” according Halton District School Board (HDSB).

The new name, which the board said is pronounced “muck-kwen-dum,” was unanimously approved during a meeting Wednesday night.

“The choice of Makwendam Public School speaks directly to the purpose of renaming Ryerson Public School — as we as a country search for the lost children on residential school lands, we must remember, we must learn and be better,” stated HDSB chair Andréa Grebenc in a media release.

In an email to CBC, Marnie Denton, communications manager for the board, said it did not “specifically reach out to the Indigenous community” when it came to renaming.

“However we received numerous names that were Indigenous or had Indigenous significance,” she wrote. 

A committee made up of a parent of a student at the school, the school principal and superintendent, as well as two trustees, selected a short list of three names that were put forward to the rest of the trustees to consider. The board’s Indigenous lead, Tammy Hardwick, consulted with a Indigenous linguistics expert on the word choice and spelling, Denton said. 

The HDSB sought to rename the site following calls to remove the name of Egerton Ryerson, who played a role in creating the residential school system, from public buildings.

Hamilton’s public school board voted earlier this year to undertake an Indigenous-led process to rename its own Ryerson Elementary School.

The City of Burlington is also in the process of gathering votes to rename Ryerson Park, which sits next to the school on Woodview Road.

The HDSB noted it had received formal requests to take Ryerson’s name off the building.

Evan Rochon, a Grade 6 student at the school, spoke in favour of Makwendam during the meeting.

He told trustees his family’s history there dates back to 1979 when his mother started kindergarten, but said it was time for a new title.

“Makwendam has meaning. It is a reminder of the past and the awful things that happened at residential schools,” he said.

“Just saying the name will always remind us about the past.”

Rochon added that the new name will make the school stand out and spark conversation.

“It will help us talk and teach about truth and reconciliation,” he said.

The HDSB said the renaming process began in September and more than 1,200 suggestions were submitted.

The board said plans are underway to change the school’s signage, website and sports uniforms.

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