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Residents frustrated as mural of Alex Raeburn at Caledon Central gets painted over

June 16, 2022   ·   0 Comments

By Zachary Roman

Some Caledon residents and Orangeville councillor Lisa Post are expressing dismay that a mural celebrating the contributions of Post’s grandfather, Alex Raeburn, has been painted over at Caledon Central Public School.

Raeburn (1912-2012) was a fourth-generation resident of Caledon Village and involved in many projects in the community. He served on the local school board, was a charter member of Caledon Town Council and Peel Regional Council, and served two terms on the Niagara Escarpment Commission, among other community involvements. Perhaps most relevant to this story is the big part he played in getting Caledon Central Public School built.  

According to Peel District School Board trustee Stan Cameron, just before 10 a.m. on June 3 he received a call from Caledon Central’s principal letting him know the mural of Raeburn — located in the library at Caledon Central that’s named after him — had been painted over.

Cameron said in the call, he asked why it was painted over and never got a solid reason. He also asked what the plan for the wall was now that it’s a blank slate again, and the response was that there wasn’t a definitive plan yet.

“You can imagine I was flabbergasted and disgusted and disappointed in these answers,” said Cameron. “The bottom line is I’ve been trying to advocate for the family as a result of this bizarre painting over of a mural without any plan… without any connection with the family about what was being done.”

Cameron explained back in 2014, a group of Caledon Village residents and members of Raeburn’s family had approached him asking for his help in getting Caledon Central named after Raeburn. Cameron explained how difficult that would be, and he and the residents then worked with the school’s administration and parent council at the time to get the school’s library named after, and get a mural painted of, Raeburn instead.

The mural featured Raeburn’s face and name, and the background was scenes of Caledon and nods to the things he accomplished. Also in the mural were words describing Raeburn such as inclusive, honest, responsible and caring.

On Monday, June 6, a letter was sent from Caledon Central Public School principal Lesley Kennedy and vice-principal Alexandra Charette to Caledon Central families notifying them of the mural change.

“We’ve been enthusiastically thinking of how to best honour the legacy and values of Alex Raeburn in our school, while also re-envisioning and modernizing a focal wall in our library to encompass community voice,” the letter reads. “Our plan for our new, refreshed art installation is to engage and encourage our students, school community, and staff to bring their own unique ideas and imagination to a conversation about how we might represent their lived experiences and identities on this wall to further nurture, challenge and invite the exceptional learning and

growing Cal Central is known for.”

Kennedy was reached for comment on June 15 but was unable to respond by press time.

Orangeville Councillor Lisa Post, Raeburn’s granddaughter, said she only found out about the mural being repainted the Friday after the letter was sent out, June 10.

Both she and Cameron are of the opinion that they weren’t notified of what was happening until after it was done because if they were, they would have tried to stop it. Post said she thinks the letter was only released as a result of “some of the fury” that happened as people slowly found out the mural had been painted over. 

“I’m disheartened and I’m frustrated that an action like this is being passed off as equity work… I think it just undervalues the work that we do as equity practitioners,” said Post, chair of Orangeville’s DEI Committee and working to get her bachelor of community development degree with a focus on equity work. “Actions like this are why it’s hard to get people on our side, why it’s hard to get people doing the meaningful work — because when they hear that something like this is deemed equity work, they don’t want to be part of it.”

Post said she’s worried that support for proper equity work for students is being passed over and replaced with “tokenized” things like an unnecessary mural change.

The June 6 letter from Caledon Central administration goes on to state the process of “art installation revisioning” happened much faster than anticipated, and let families know the wall was already primed and ready for a new mural.

“Please be assured that our new wall-display will be an ongoing collaborative effort, one that continues to recognize Alex Raeburn and his contributions, as well as the creativity, spirit, and energy of our amazing student body. We look forward to conceptualizing our beautiful new art installation and are committed to effective and timely communication with stakeholders – and the Raeburn family – as we see it take shape,” the letter to families reads.

Post said one of the most frustrating things about the whole situation is no one reached out to her or her family before the mural was painted over.

“I think my family has remained firm that we’re pretty disheartened by the fact that this was done and we really believe that it was a disservice to my grandfather’s memory to do it this way,” she said.

Cameron said Post and her family, as well as the Caledon residents supporting them, are making two requests of the Caledon Central administration.

The first is that if possible they’d like to bring back the original mural, such as by commissioning the original mural artist to repaint it. Post said she’s received many messages of support and even offers to pay for the mural’s repainting.

The second ask is that an apology letter be sent to Caledon Central families. Post said the letter sent by Caledon Central administration makes it seem as though her grandfather was racist, and Post said he was not. While that may not have been the letter’s intent, Cameron and Post said it does not matter as it may seem that way to a reader and tarnish Raeburn’s legacy.

Post explained that she read the letter from Caledon Central administration as implying the mural was being painted over in an effort to implement an equity plan and dismantle racism and oppression in the school system. Then, she thought, “What are you saying about my family?”

Raeburn was a big advocate for the public school system and every child’s right to a good education close to their home, said Post. She acknowledged that Raeburn was “an old white guy” and that he came from a privileged place, living in a time when white people were even more privileged than they are today.

Still, she said, in a generation when it wasn’t popular, Raeburn was working really hard to get more women into politics and fighting to save the environment. 

“He thought at that time, back when it wasn’t popular to think that way, that women’s voices mattered,” said Post. She added that her grandfather believed in shattering glass ceilings and making the world a better place.

Cameron said he has been contacting senior administration within the school board about the issue and that he’ll continue to fight for the Raeburn family.

“This one for me is a very serious infraction against the Raeburn family and it’s my responsibility to represent them,” said Cameron



         


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