Edmonton’s Oliver community receives new Cree name

The Oliver Community League (OCL) has revealed the new Cree name for the community: wîhkwêntôwin. Global News

An Edmonton neighbourhood located just west of downtown has a new name.

The Oliver Community League (OCL) has revealed the new Cree name for the community: wîhkwêntôwin — pronounced WEE-KWEN-TOE-WIN.

The name was gifted to the community by Elder Jerry Saddleback.

In English, wîhkwêntôwin means a circle of friends. In a news release issued Monday, the OCL said this name better reflects the community’s diversity and spirit of inclusion.

Robyn Paches, a former president of the OCL, said the name “was really impactful for the entire process from the start.

“It started as a circle. It’s a circle of community members wanting to find something that better represents our values and brought everyone together as a circle of friends.”

Click to play video: 'Push to rename central Edmonton neighbourhood'
Push to rename central Edmonton neighbourhood

The neighbourhood was named after Frank Oliver, a journalist who started Edmonton’s first paper, the Edmonton Bulletin.

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Oliver was an active perpetrator in chasing the Papaschase and Michel bands from their land, the community league has said. He also used the Edmonton Bulletin to perpetuate negative stereotypes around Indigenous peoples, according to the community league.

“Frank Oliver’s harmful legacy does not reflect our values, so our community initiated the process to change the name,” the OCL said.

The conversation to change the name of the central Edmonton community started back in 2017.

“It came to a head in two specific situations,” said Paches. “In 2017, with some civil rights protests at the legislature and then again in 2020 with global civil rights movements.”

In 2020, the OCL board of directors approved a motion to rename the community.

The new name was chosen following community engagement, which included an online survey. Paches said 70 per cent of those who filled out the survey were in favour of renaming the neighbourhood.

“We did face some pushback and critical questions,” Paches said. “But we were happy to engage with them at all times. We continue to have an open-door policy to anyone who is opposed to the process and we’re always happy to meet with them to have a conversation.

“Frank Oliver was a large, impactful individual in the history of Western Canada and Edmonton. We’re by no means attempting to erase history here. Instead, we’re trying to find something that is better reflective of the current values of our community.”

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O-day’min Coun. Anne Stevenson said she is delighted by the new name.

“wîhkwêntôwin just really captures the spirit of this neighbourhood,” she said.

Stevenson said she has heard some concerns about the name change, but added they’re not widespread.

“Certainly strongly felt,” she said. “I think the biggest concern is the feeling that we are erasing history or forgetting about our past. And in my mind, that is absolutely not the case.

“We all will continue to remember Frank Oliver and his role in our city and his actions. It’s not about forgetting but it’s just about reflecting on who we want to honour. Names are a very significant honour and it’s important that we choose those wisely, and Frank Oliver is someone that I don’t feel honours the current neighbourhood or its history.”

There are a number of public and private entities that don the name Oliver in the neighbourhood. Stevenson said she plans to make a motion to council to “review any civic assets that have this name to see what options there may be.

“I think easiest is just to align with the new neighbourhood name.”

wîhkwêntôwin is the third name for the community, which was originally called the West End.

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The neighbourhood was renamed to Oliver in 1937.

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