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Skookum High

For this year's Halloween costume, Yukonomist donned his classic black and yellow jacket from his high school days.

For this year’s Halloween costume, Yukonomist donned his classic black and yellow jacket from his high school days.

While this certainly frightened lots of children, it also raised the question: “Who was FH Collins?”

Yukonomist subsequently put this brain teaser to a dozen bright young things at FH Collins Secondary School.

Puzzled looks were the result, although a few quick thinkers had good guesses. One suggested that Fred Collins was “a warrior” since that’s the moniker of the school team. Another speculated that perhaps he was “the guy who discovered Riverdale.”

One student of the 12 had the correct answer, which is, as the great man’s 22-word entry in Wikipedia confirms, Commissioner of the Yukon.

The Yukon government is now building a replacement for the landmark Yukon educational institution named after Collins. It opened in 1963 and it was understandable at the time to name it after a recent commissioner.

But now that we’re spending $50 million or more on a state-of-the-art educational facility designed to host all the latest teaching techniques and technologies, perhaps it is time to think about rebranding the school too. Maybe this would underline the launch of not just a new building, but of a new era in Yukon education.

So what would a good name be? Forget naming it after current politicians. That’s not only uncool, but they haven’t done much for education other than talk about it a lot. (They are paying for the new school, but only after years of embarrassing reports documenting leaking roofs and shocking heating bills).

Also, it’s taken 50 years for people to forget Fred Collins. Most of today’s crop of politicians will likely be forgotten the day after the next election.

So what would some good names be?

Whitehorse High is dull, even if it does hark back to the pre-FH Collins era. You could name it after the street it’s on, but Selkirk School and the Wood Street Centre have that angle covered. Plus, it would be weird to name it Lewes High considering that the Lewes River has disappeared from our maps. Plus the Vanier and PC kids would call its students “Lewes-ers.”

The school could try something punchy, like the new Thunder Mountain High in Juneau. But that sounds more like a Disneyland ride than a school.

The best idea I’ve heard so far is Skookum High. Skookum is tough to translate, but generally means strong and hearty. It’s easy to pronounce and a good fit symbolically, since it’s a word with First Nation roots that has also established itself in English thanks to its links to the Klondike Gold Rush and Skookum Jim. According to The Canadian Encyclopedia, it has its origins in Chinook Jargon, a trade language spoken up and down the Pacific Coast and interior in the 19th and 20th centuries. Apparently Vancouver’s Kumtux School, Tamahnous Theatre and Tillicum mascot all took Chinook words for their names.

However, no discussion of building names in the era of the Air Canada Centre and GM Place would be complete with considering the corporate possibilities. And since cost over-runs are as common as bad hair in 1980s grad photos, we should probably start thinking about how to raise a little extra money to pay for those important things that get cut first when a school project goes over budget.

Northwestel and ATCO both bought naming rights at the Canada Games Centre, where each has an ice sheet named after them. Various corporate donors have also generously funded public infrastructure at the hospital, such as the deal last June announcing that the Outpatient Lab would be renamed in honour of Capstone and Minto Exploration.

It has been interesting to watch the Games Centre and the hospital run fundraising circles around the Department of Education over the last few years. People have complained that public institutions shouldn’t be forced by stingy politicians to hold bake sales and sell naming rights to corporations, but money is money. When the Department of Education calls the FH Building Advisory Committee and starts asking them which bits of the design they want to erase to save money, undoubtedly someone will propose selling the naming rights.

So put your thinking caps on. If you have a good idea for a new name, send it to the FH Student Council. If you’re a mining CEO with a few million bucks, go ahead and call the principal.

Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist and author of the Aurore of the Yukon series of historical children’s

adventure novels.