David McConkey - Columnist, Consultant, Citizen
Columnist. Consultant. Citizen.

What’s in a Name?

Brandon Sun, November 23, 2020 – David McConkey

The discussion about renaming Rosser Avenue has prompted more reflections for me. But instead of dwelling on deplorable people from the past, I am recalling three inspiring women from 100 years ago. We could enhance our community by naming landmarks after them, such as a prominent school. Talk about some good news right about now!

First, I would like to thank those who are contributing to the Rosser discussion: in these pages, on social media and before city council. These are great conversations about our community and its history.

I’ll recap the Rosser issue and my view. Gen. Thomas Lafayette Rosser was a racist and a scoundrel: by our standards and by the standards of his own time. But he is the founder of Brandon and a main street is named after him. The name should remain.

Here is one way to look at Rosser Avenue. The name acknowledges the city’s creation. It is not an honour bestowed by the citizens.  

I note three women from 100 years ago whom we should remember today. I propose renaming Earl Oxford School, in the spirit of sparking a friendly conversation.

As I mentioned in an earlier column, I started wondering about Earl Oxford School because of its visible location and the relative ease of changing the name of a school compared to a major street. I recognize that current and former students, staff and members of the community may have a fondness for the name Earl Oxford. Sorry!

H.H. Asquith was a British politician and prime minister; in retirement he received the title Earl Oxford. He died in 1928, the same year the Brandon school was built. From what I can discern, Asquith had no connection to our community, no connection to education, no special qualities that would merit our interest. So I think of the name as a placeholder. In 1928 – in my imagination – Brandon education leaders said: “While we look for a better name, why don’t we call it Earl Oxford School?”

Here are three suggestions for a better name. These women were all connected to Westman. They all worked as teachers. And they all lived lives worthy of our attention and admiration.

(This list might have included Aleta Clement and Jessie Turnbull McEwen. But they are already remembered in the Brandon streets Clement and McEwen. I will comment more on them and street names in a future column.)


Nellie Mooney was born in Ontario in 1873. When she was seven, her family moved to a farm near Wawanesa. Nellie became a school teacher in the Manitou area, where she met and married Wes McClung. While a young wife and mother, she started writing bestselling novels. She became an activist for women’s rights, like the right to vote and freedom from spousal abuse. She was an accomplished organizer, public speaker and humourist. McClung died in 1951 in Victoria, where she is buried.


Born in Ontario in 1884, Beynon came to Manitoba with her family as a five-year-old. They settled on a Hartney area farm. She taught school near Carman before moving to Winnipeg to work as a writer. Beynon campaigned alongside McClung for women’s rights. Speaking out against the First World War and finding it difficult living in Canada, she moved to the U.S. In her semi-autobiographical novel, “Aleta Dey,” Beynon portrayed events like her childhood in Western Manitoba. Beynon died in 1951 and is buried in Winnipeg.


She was born in Brandon in 1894. She became a teacher and took a teaching job in the small town of Sonnenfeldt, in southern Saskatchewan. In the fall of 1918, the deadly second wave of the Spanish Flu pandemic swept into the community. The school closed, but Beaubier chose to stay and help out. She went door to door checking on people. She organized places where the sick could go to receive medical assistance. Coming down with the flu herself, she died on November 5, 1918. She was 24. Beaubier is buried in the Brandon Cemetery. To honour the young teacher who died helping others, the people of Sonnenfeldt changed their town’s name to Beaubier.

McClung, Beynon and Beaubier exemplified living well: caring about others, working hard, contributing to a civil society. They grew up in Westman; they engaged with the global issues of their time, like a pandemic, war and human rights. They lived 100 years ago, yet accounts of their lives jump off the page like today’s news.

The name of any of these three women would be especially appropriate for a school. Their stories invite the question that permeates everything that students learn. That question: how do you live an ethical, interesting and rewarding life?

* * * *
See also: 

Francis Marion Beynon: Compelling Story of a Manitoba Suffragist, Pacifist

Remembering Nellie McClung

Look at Broader Context Before Removing Building Names

What Should We Remember of Our History?

Remembering F.A. Rosser, Wondering About Earl Oxford



David McConkey,
Brandon, Manitoba
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