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Names for new schools sound a little old school

Jun 10 2012

The people have spoken. The most popular names for the West Shore's two new high schools: Belmont 2.0 and Belmont 2.1.

Well, no, but the real frontrunners, the result of extensive public consultation, are almost as imaginative. The Belmont name would carry on at its new Glen Lake location while the secondary school at Royal Bay would be called - wait for it - Royal Bay Secondary, a choice so bland, safe and prosaic that it might have been selected by the editorial board of an airline in-flight magazine.

This is not, I hasten to add, out of the ordinary in B.C., where schools are often named for the areas in which they sit - Esquimalt Secondary, North Saanich Middle School, Gordon Head Elementary and so on. The replacement for Oak Bay High will be called, you guessed it, Oak Bay High.

But at least those are real places. Colwood only dusted off the little-used "Royal Bay" for its soon-to-be neighbourhood because that sounds better than "The Old Gravel Pit."

It is now common for nascent communities to emerge with names that have more to do with marketing than history. Property developers conjure up images of tranquility with names derived from what got bulldozed to make way for the condos: Walnut Grove, Whispering Pines, Whooping Crane Nesting Area. Suburban housing estates, golf courses and wineries all dine from the same menu, choosing one from column A (Cedar, Eagle, Deer, Oak, Bear, Sunny) and a second from column B (Creek, Hills, Ridge, Heights, Lake, View). For an extra $5, the word "Crooked" can be added.

Makes you wonder what the map would have looked like had our forefathers been thinking that way when picking place names. Doubt if we would have Climax, Sask., or Dildo, N.L. (or, in England, the town of Ugley, where the Ugley Women's Institute famously rebranded itself as the Women's Institute of Ugley).

Same goes for Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, Alta., or Punkeydoodles Corners, Ont. Here in B.C., we probably wouldn't have Horsefly, Deadman Creek or Wonowon, so called because it is at Mile 101 of the Alaska Highway.

Place names change with time. With Canada at war with Germany in the First World War, Berlin, Ont., became Kitchener. More recently, aboriginal designations have been restored: the Queen Charlottes reverted to Haida Gwaii, Frobisher Bay gave way to Iqaluit and the Nass Valley's Canyon City became Gitwinksihlkw (for those wondering how to pronounce it, the Q is silent, just like Christy Clark on the Enbridge pipeline).

In B.C., most alterations must be approved by the Geographical Names Office. That agency doesn't initiate changes, only responds to requests. It also follows guidelines: geographical features may not be named after a person until he or she has been dead at least two years, there's no commemorating victims or tragedies, and submissions must be in good taste. Discriminatory or derogatory names won't be considered.

Indeed, many names have been excised due to changing sensibilities. A dozen or so Squaw creeks, lakes, mountains and islands were retitled. The Cumberland area's Jap Mountain became Nikkei Mountain in 2002. Chinaman Lake, Chink Creek and - good lord - Niggertoe Mountain are no longer found in atlases of B.C. Ditto for Vancouver Island's Kokshittle Arm and Kowshet Cove.

But back to school, as it were. The Sooke district (most of whose schools, it should be noted, are not in Sooke) has scheduled open houses on the names question this coming week.

Perhaps this time someone will suggest commemorating an inspirational figure, as was the case with Mill Bay's Frances Kelsey Secondary, named for the Cobble Hill-born scientist who blocked approval of the drug thalidomide - later linked to horrific birth defects - in the U.S.

Note that this week saw the passing of the former educator whose name lives on in Langford's Ruth King Elementary. Surely the West Shore has others who could be similarly honoured.

Or perhaps we should just be glad we're not in Newton, Massachusetts, where they're currently looking at selling naming rights in two high schools for $6 million.

Crown Royal Bay High, anyone?


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