Frank Oliver founded Edmonton’s first newspaper and is a namesake for schools, parks and an entire neighbourhood – but some are calling for his name to be removed from places other than museums or books.
Marisa Peters is part of a group encouraging the city to get rid of the Oliver name because of his controversial actions, saying his dark side shouldn’t be honoured.
“I think Frank Oliver was kind of a nasty fella,” Peters said.
In addition to establishing the city’s first newspaper, Oliver created the Northwest Territories’ first public school system and then went on to a career in politics.
Oliver was an MLA and also an MP. It was during that time that he implemented an immigration policy banning black people, and another that chased the Papaschase First Nation off its land.
At the time, Oliver is quoted as saying, “Better men need the land.”
Peters is holding an anti-racism rally on Saturday to demand change.
“We aren’t erasing the history,” she said. “I think that history needs to be named and put into textbooks and museums. I think those names need to be remembered but not commemorated.”
She said there are good alternatives to the Oliver name.
But not everyone agrees. Oliver resident Victor Kennedy said he wants to maintain the status quo.
“Just leave it the way it is. That was a part of history,” he said.
Mayor Don Iveson said he understands both sides.
“There is a mixed story with Frank Oliver,” he said. “How we approach a conversation about names and about history is really the opportunity here.”
Iveson said it’s important not to have a knee-jerk reaction to the concerns being raised.
“I don’t know the answer is auto-stripping the name off of everything.”
Watch below: On Jan. 23, 2017, Lisa MacGregor filed this report about Calgary’s Langevin Bridge, which was named in honour of a father of confederation who is also tied to a dark chapter in Canadian history.
The mayor said he is open to having a discussion about Oliver and other controversial names.
“Maybe that leads to name changes. Maybe that leads to interpretation. I don’t think that’s solely up to me. We have to have a lot of engagement with the community.”
Edmonton’s historian laureate, Chris Chan-Yen Phillips, agreed it’s a complicated issue.
“It asks us, ‘Are we celebrating this person or are we just remembering him?’ If we are celebrating him, which parts of that legacy are we celebrating?”
Oliver isn’t the only name some are calling to be removed. John A. Macdonald is also under fire and his name is on a number of schools across Canada.
Watch below: On Aug. 24, 2017, David Akin filed this report about the past of Canada’s founding father and first prime minister, John A. Macdonald, coming back to haunt him. There’s a growing campaign to remove his name from schools and buildings in Ontario.
A mural in the Grandin LRT station, painted by Aaron Paquette, serves to remember residential schools.
Paquette believes controversial names should be treated the same way.
“Rather than mythologize our history, we can understand it, learn from it and move forward in a better way together.”