The new elementary school on Eagle Mountain finally has a name – Irene Kelleher Elementary.
The Abbotsford board of education approved the name at its meeting on Sept. 21, and will also incorporate the Halq’eméylem term “Totí:ltawtxw” (house of learning) into the official title.
The naming committee – comprised of trustee, staff, community, and student representation – brought three options forward to the board for consideration. After compiling the near 800 submissions received during the spring consultation period, the top three names presented included: Sp’oq’es Heights Elementary, Irene Kelleher Elementary and Kathleen Cooper Elementary.
Kelleher was born and raised in Matsqui and was the first person of Indigenous ancestry to receive a B.C. teaching certificate. She faced prejudice both based on her race and gender, as she was initially rejected after applying to teach in Abbotsford.
She began teaching in a one-room schoolhouse near Terrace, B.C. in 1921 and then at other locations across B.C.
Kelleher eventually obtained a job at Abbotsford’s North Poplar Elementary, where she became principal during the Second World War. She retired in Abbotsford in 1964 after 44 years of teaching and died on March 16, 2004 at the age of 102.
Her nomination package included dozens of names of those advocating for her and many letters discussing why it would be a fitting tribute to a remarkable career and life.
Throughout October, the district will research Irene Kelleher’s legacy and consult with its Indigenous stakeholders to ensure “Totí:ltawtxw” is appropriately reflected in the new school’s identity.
“As a Board, we’re delighted to provide a worthy name for our new school to acknowledge the contributions and educational service of Irene Kelleher,” stated Dr. Stan Petersen, chair for the Abbotsford board of education.
The new elementary school in Abbotsford is scheduled to open at the start of the school year in September 2022.