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The Vancouver School Board name game: Crosstown vs Cumyow

What's in a name? Hopefully a lot when it comes to choosing the right name for a brand new public school. One person will decide. Let's hope she gets it right. 

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Former education minister George Abbott and former VSB Chair Patti Bacchus sign funding agreements for the new school at International Village and the rebuild of General Gordon elementary at a 2012 ceremony. Photo: Flickr 

Ever since I signed the funding agreement to build the “International Village” school in 2012 I thought about how wonderful it would be to honour the cultural history of its downtown location, on traditional Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish unceded territory and on the edge of Vancouver’s historic Chinatown, with a culturally significant name.

I hoped we'd choose the name of notable first nations person, place or event, or a name with significance for the history of Chinatown. I didn’t imagine “Crosstown”.

I’ve lived in Vancouver all my life and until that last VSB committee meeting I don’t recall hearing of a neighbourhood called Crosstown. Or maybe I have but instantly forgot it. It’s the kind of word I could easily forget.

When I heard it at the committee meeting my first thought was that it was kind of bland and sounded like something a realtor or developer would come up with to sell some condos — paving over history and rebranding it as a trendy up-and-coming neighbourhood.

So I did the obvious thing and googled it and lo and behold, the first hit was — you guessed it — a realtor’s page.

It’s a nice description: "Crosstown is conveniently located between West Pender Street & Expo Blvd (North to South) & Cambie Street to Main Street (East to West). Being situated just South of Historic Gastown and East of Historic China Town, Crosstown Vancouver is located in the middle of the oldest and most cultural areas of Downtown Vancouver.

"Crosstown Vancouver is Downtown Vancouver's Newest Community / Neighbourhood. Crosstown has had a large number of new condos hit the market recently. With the Espana Development freshly completing & adding another 416 new units to the neighbourhood, the area is buzzing with new life."

I’m sure it’s buzzing with new life but at the risk of sounding like an old codger, let’s not’s forget the many lives that have already crossed through that part of town.

Not blaming the realtors or the great restaurants

It’s not fair to blame this one on realtors. A media story entitled Vancouver's Crosstown neighbourhood hits a Soho cool blames one of my favourite restaurants, Chambar, and that’s not fair either.

No, this is not a blame game. And no doubt the neighbourhood is every bit as vibrant and exciting as the realtors and papers say it is.

But I still think we can do better than “Crosstown.”

While a Globe and Mail reporter refers to Crosstown as “The neighbourhood that has never quite taken off”, the numbers of families asking for a school in the area tells me it’s off and running and a very nice place to live.

Allan Wong has a better idea than Crosstown

My former colleague Allan Wong, who was one of the trustees fired when the elected board was replaced by a government appointee in October, has a proposal he’s hoping Turner will consider.

He wants the school named Alexander Won Cumyow Elementary School and he makes a strong case.

His proposal to Turner points out that Cumyow was the first person of Chinese descent to be born in Canada and the only Chinese person who was registered to vote in the election before (1890) and after (1949) the Chinese were disenfranchised.

Cumyow, Wong says, was “One of the first Chinese to be able to cast a ballot in provincial and federal elections.

He was a court interpreter and an interpreter for the Vancouver Police and an original member to allow the Chinese to be treated in the Vancouver hospital when the Chinese people could only be treated in the basement.”

Cumyow plaqueA plaque in Vancouver's Chinatown honouring Cumyow. Photo: Allan Wong

Wong’s proposal says Cumyow fought for many important community and social causes, including building a playground in Chinatown.

“He loved Vancouver so much he named his son Victor 'Vancouver' Cumyow. His granddaughter (Becky) was an elementary teacher in Vancouver in the 60's.”

There are undoubtedly many other culturally significant names that recognize the first nations territory or Chinatown’s history. However if it comes down to Crosstown vs Cumyow and if I still had a vote, I’d vote for Cumyow.

I’m hoping the VSB’s one voting member — the government appointed trustee, Dianne Turner, feels the same way when this decision makes its way back to the board table in December.














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