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Board chair says process was followed in naming new school

Lakehead board chose 'Northern Lights' which is already used by a local school

THUNDER BAY — The chair of the Lakehead District Public School Board is defending the board against a suggestion it has committed identity theft in choosing the name for its newest school.

However, one trustee who voted against the decision wants it reversed.

The board's standing committee voted 6-2 on Tuesday night to accept Ecole Northern Lights Public School as the name for the elementary school under construction near the now-closed Sir Winston Churchill Collegiate in Northwood.

It made the decision over the objections of the local group that established the independent, not-for-profit Northern Lights School which has operated in the city since 2017.

It's located in the North McIntyre Recreation Centre on Government Road.

Lakehead chair Ellen Chambers says "We followed our process to a 'T' and we did have a legal opinion when we learned it was in use by another school."

In an interview with, Chambers said it was important to respect the desires of the Edgewater Park and Agnew H. Johnston school communities in selecting a name.

Students from the two schools will transfer to the new building when it's completed in 2020.

Some 240 suggestions for names initially came in from the public, but Northern Lights was not among them.

Chambers explained that after someone nominated Aurora Borealis, it was pointed out it is already used by the Thunder Bay French-language Catholic school board.

"We know that Aurora Borealis translates into Northern Lights," she said. So the committee decided to include it on the final list of three names presented to the school communities for a vote.

More than half the 906 ballots were cast for Northern Lights.

Chambers insisted Wednesday that the name Ecole Northern Lights Public School is "different" from Northern Lights School.

However, Arlene Thorn, chair of the Northern Lights School board, disagreed.

"It's like an identity theft," said Thorn, who attended Tuesday night's board meeting.

The format did not allow for her to speak at the meeting, but she sent an email to trustees saying they were not being socially conscious.

"It was not the right thing to do...It was a kind of moral boundary that I think, as a board committee, they should not have" crossed. 

The next stage in the process of naming the new school takes place on May 28 at the board's regular meeting when the decision comes up for ratification.

Lakehead trustee Deborah Massaro said that means there is still time for her collleagues to do "the right thing."

Massaro voted against the motion, telling the other trustees "to practise good corporate citizenship."

She said the existing Northern Lights School has been trying to gain attention as an alternative school since its inception, and the board should wish it well. 

Massaro believes another name should be chosen from among those suggested during community consultations.

She's hearing from local residents who share that view, saying in an interview Wednesday that she had received "many calls and emails." 

Gary Rinne

About the Author: Gary Rinne

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Gary started part-time at Tbnewswatch in 2016 after retiring from the CBC
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