An official naming ceremony was held on Saturday in Calgary at the Reconciliation Bridge. Elders and youth from Treaty 7 First Nations, Metis Nation Region 3 and the Inuit community participated in the event. It began with a prayer circle and a walk across the bridge, followed by drumming and a traditional Round Dance.
The bridge was first opened in 1910 and was named Langevin Bridge after one of the men behind Canada’s residential school system. Hector-Louis Langevin was a Father of Confederation and a Conservative cabinet minister. In January of 2017, city council voted to change the bridge name.
On Saturday, residential school survivors came to witness the renaming of the bridge.
“I thought for sure I wasn’t going to make it out of that school,” said Morley-area residential school survivor Rod Hunter.
“We had a blue box with two holes in it in the basement of my residential school and I spent many nights in there,” Hunter recalled. “I peed on myself and I vomited on myself in that box because I stood against what they were doing to us. I was one of the few that always complained and I was one of the few that was abused by the priest and especially the nuns.”
Mayor Nenshi called it a “complicated day” of remembering the children who were taken from their families and never came home, but also a day of joy looking to the future.
“Our greatest failure as a nation is our failure to have included our indigenous brothers and sisters in the prosperity of this place,” Nenshi said. “And that is why we are celebrating the Reconciliation Bridge today. That’s why we are talking about our history with open and clear eyes.”
“There is a reason it’s called the Reconciliation Bridge rather than giving it an indigenous name. It’s because the name of the bridge is intended to spark a discussion.”
Treaty 7 leaders say the renaming of the bridge shows Canadian society is moving in the right direction, but there is still much more do to.
“Yes, wrongs were done to us; yes, the church is still believes they didn’t do anything wrong; yes, government people still think that we are wards of the state,” said Tsuut’ina chief Lee Crowchild. “But my grandparents would say you have to forgive them because they don’t know very much at all.”
For many at the ceremony it was a day of remembering a painful past, but also expressing gratitude for change.
“Renaming is something great for me because of what I went through and what some of my survivors went through,” Hunter said. “It means a great deal. It means thank you from our hearts for recognizing us and for reconciliation. In our language it means to change your mind and to change your heart and to be as one.”
Mayor Nenshi says the renaming ceremony is symbolically important in healing wounds with the area’s First Nations and in demonstrating the country’s commitment to move forward.
“Symbols matter. Names matter. And coming together today to celebrate this name on this bridge matters. It shows our commitment to each other,” Nenshi said. “We can’t change the past, but we are not prisoners of it. We are not solely defined by the pain of our shared history but rather by how we choose to move forward. And we choose to move forward in love and kindness and in compassion. In the true spirit of reconciliation.”
Liberal leader David Khan said this is about acknowledging a painful chapter in Canada’s history.
“Indigenous peoples have suffered terrible treatment,” said Liberal leader David Khan. “By renaming this bridge we reject a painful chapter in Canadian history and begin to build an inclusive future.” But, Khan said, there must be more than just symbolic gestures to achieve true reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.
“Tens of thousands of First Nations children lack acceptable access to culturally-based child welfare,” Khan said. “Education funding on-reserve is far less per capita than off-reserve. Infrastructure is in decay and necessary services like clean water are far less accessible. Indigenous Canadians endure lower incomes, life expectancy and education levels, while suffering higher unemployment, suicide and incarcerations rates.”
The name change came about through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which attributed the following quote to former Public Works Minister Sir Hector-Louis Langevin:
“In order to educate the children properly we must separate them from their families. Some people may say that this is hard but if we want to civilize them we must do that.”
The quote was given in 1883 as an explanation for establishing residential schools for Aboriginal children.