The late Winston Joseph taught English for so many years at AW Neill School that his former students’ children became his students.
Now a growing group of those students and other people who respected the late Port Alberni man are calling for the school district to rename AW Neill School in Joseph’s honour. Joseph died April 11 at age 89.
They have a strong case. After moving to Port Alberni with his young family in the 1960s he taught at AW Neill for 22 years before moving on to the high school. Besides teaching, he lived a life of service with numerous volunteer organizations, including more than 50 years with the Alberni Valley Lions Club.
More than 600 people have signed the petition, and the number is growing.
The district voted in February 2020 to remove A.W. Neill’s name from the Port Alberni school after a community campaign. Neill is a controversial figure from Port Alberni’s past: a Member of Parliament from 1925-1945 and an Indian Agent who helped establish the first residential school in the Alberni Valley. He was also vocally racist against those of Asian heritage while an MP.
The school district began work on a name changing policy in 2017 and made a decision to remove Neill’s name after the policy was created. A new name has not yet been revealed.
It seems simple, then, for the district to rename the school for Joseph. All except for one thing: the new policy prohibits future naming of schools after people.
The reasoning behind the new policy is sound: it was designed in order to avoid future controversy in the future and provides flexibility and inclusivity in choosing a name.
The school district would have to vote for a one-time exception to its policy in order to rename the school for Joseph. We suspect the process won’t be as easy as it looks on the surface.
If renaming the school doesn’t work out there are plenty of other opportunities to honour the man who loved his community so completely.
—Alberni Valley News