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New school to be named after Queen of the Hurricanes

The Lakehead School Board voted in favour of naming its new public school École Elsie MacGill and not École Northern Lights

THUNDER BAY - The chair of a not-for-profit school said she is relieved that there will be only one Northern Lights school in the city of Thunder Bay.

“We are relieved and overjoyed that it has come right in the end,” said Arlene Thorn, board chair of the Northern Lights School. “We are really grateful to the board and for the community for also seeing that the Northern Lights school was not really a good name for their school.”

During a special session of the Lakehead Public School Board on Thursday, trustees voted unanimously in favour of naming a new school being built in the city’s south side École Elsie MacGill Public School.

Originally, members of the Edgewater Park and Agnew H. Johnston school community selected École Northern Lights in a survey. The name received 492 votes while École Elsie MacGill was the third choice out of a possible 240 nominations with 157 of the 904 votes cast.

Lakehead Public School Board chair, Ellen Chambers, said at the time, the school community wasn’t aware that there was another school with the Northern Lights name.

However, a standing committee did vote 6-2 in favour of the Northern Lights name, but the board did not ratify that recommendation during a meeting on May 28 and instead chose to postpone the vote to allow the ad hoc committee in charge of finding a name a chance to meet again.

When the ad hoc committee did meet again, they decided to send out another survey to members of the school community.

The results of the survey showed that 62 per cent of the 220 respondents did not support the Northern Lights name and 52 per cent voted for École Elsie MacGill Public School over École Maple Grove Public School.

“I’m pretty happy. It’s a good name,” Chambers said. “We went about it the way we needed to. We went back to the community and the community was pretty clear and I think they appreciated that we did that.”

“Since perhaps they weren’t informed there was another Northern Lights school in Thunder Bay, once they did know, then of course they realized it wasn’t right to have a second school with the same name and they realized the error made earlier in proposing that name,” Thorn added.

The entire process has been frustrating, Thorn said, particularly when the Lakehead Board was contacted regarding the name already in use and then still moved forward with it.

“When we heard recently that it would be the name, we couldn’t believe they would do that,” she said. “We felt really slighted, we felt they had sort of ignored us and minimalized us in some ways. So we felt hurt.”

“But on the other hand it brought us some publicity,” Thorn continued. “So in a way there was a silver lining behind the cloud.”

The new public school will be named after aeronautical engineer, Elsie MacGill. Being the first woman in Canada to receive a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, MacGill became known as the Queen of the Hurricanes for her role as the chief aeronautical engineer at Canada Car and Foundry in Fort William, the first woman in the world to ever hold such a position.

There she designed and tested training aircraft and later streamlined production when the plant was tasked with producing Hawker Hurricane fighter aircraft for the Royal Air Force during the Second World War.

Thorn said the École Elsie MacGill is wonderful and she is happy the process led the Lakehead School Board to the right name.

“This name is an example of the quality of education and students and people that we want, I think it is a wonderful name for the school,” she said.

“I love it,” Chambers added. “It’s the first time we have a school in the city named after a woman, a woman who was a trailblazer. I think it’s important for all of our girls to have that as a role model and our boys too. She has a distinct and important history to our community.”

École Elsie MacGill Public School is currently under construction and is expected to open to students in September 2020.

Doug Diaczuk

About the Author: Doug Diaczuk

Doug Diaczuk is a reporter and award-winning author from Thunder Bay. He has a master’s degree in English from Lakehead University
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