The Greater Victoria School District board issued an apology Friday (Sept. 2) for actions and policies that led to Chinese students being segregated in the early 1900s.
In 1907, the Victoria School Board passed a motion requiring Chinese students to pass an English exam to attend schools in the district. After that motion was challenged, the district allowed Canadian-born Chinese students to enroll in Victoria schools, but the children who did not pass the exam were forced to seek an alternative educational path.
Then in the summer of 1922, the board passed a resolution to segregate all Chinese students up to seventh grade for the coming school year. Principals removed Chinese students from their classes at the start of the school year before leading the children to a Chinese public school on Kings Road.
When the students got close to the building, they dispersed and began striking over the segregation. The Chinese Canadian Club, the Chinese Commerce Association and the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association supported the strike.
“Among a long list of historic wrongs perpetuated against the Chinese community in Victoria, this stands out as a particularly dark incident for our school district,” Ryan Painter, SD61 board chair, said in a statement. “The Greater Victoria School Board apologizes for the actions of its previous trustees and former board chair, George Jay. The racist discrimination that led to this act is unacceptable and viewed with regret.”
Painter added that the board will work with the Chinese community to ensure the actions are not forgotten and said it’s committed to celebrating the group’s immense contributions to the city and region.
Alan Lowe, chair of the Victoria Chinatown Museum Society, said what started as a school boycott became a protest movement for equality that brought together the Chinese community locally and across the country.
“Those of us, of Chinese descent, who were born and raised in Victoria, were able to attend public schools because of those who preceded us.”
The public is invited to retrace the students’ steps in a commemorative walk on Sept. 5, marking the 100th anniversary of the student strike. The walk starts at 10:30 a.m. at George Jay Elementary School (1118 Princess Ave.) and will go to Kings Road at Wark Street. More information about the event can be found at victoriachinatownmuseum.com.
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