VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – A Vancouver elementary school named after B.C.’s first chief justice is one of the few left honouring him. Judge Matthew Begbie has been a controversial figure due to his role presiding over the hangings of six Tsilhqot’in Chiefs in the 1860s.
Vancouver’s Sir Matthew Begbie Elementary was built in 1922. The school has been located at 1430 Lillooet Street for nearly a century, with the same Begbie branding.
The Tsilhqot’in Indigenous Government has long condemned the use of the judge’s likeness.
“From the Tsilhqot’in perspective, Judge Begbie represents a legacy of betrayal, pain and tragedy for our people,” Chief Joe Alphonse said in a statement.
As part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Indigenous groups have contested the legacy of public figures like Begbie — figures who they believe are represented positively in spite of crimes that have oppressed Canada’s First Nations.
Begbie Elementary’s principal and the Vancouver School Board have been reluctant to comment on the school’s position. The VSB issued a general statement, while the school’s principal declined to comment.
Despite Canada’s prime minister and the province’s law society both deciding that Judge Begbie’s history isn’t one to bare proudly, the Vancouver School Board has not considered a name change.
“Because of the history and tradition associated with the names that have been given to District schools, the District would consider proposals to re-name a school only in cases where the existing name is deemed to no longer be serving the needs of the school population or the community,” the School Board said in an email to NEWS 1130.
The VSB went on to say, “The proposal to re-name a school could be initiated by the school administration, staff or students, the Parents’ Advisory Council or District staff.”
On Monday, New Westminster city council voted to remove a statue of Begbie from in front of the city’s Provincial Court. The Tsilhqot’in government commended council’s effort to reconcile.
“We are grateful for the leadership shown by the New Westminster City Council and for the understanding and compassion for our people that this decision reflects,” Chief Alphonse said.
This will be the second statue of Judge Begbie to be taken down, a figure was removed from the lobby of British Columbia’s Law Society in 2017.
Last year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau travelled to Tsilhqot’in traditional lands to reconcile the wrongful court verdict that sentenced six of the First Nations’ chiefs to be hung.
Trudeau confirmed “without reservation” that all six chiefs were fully exonerated. The prime minister went on to say, “words must be backed by action, by an enduring commitment to improve the lives of the Tsilhqot’in people who continue to suffer the legacy of our shared history.”