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James Short Park: Councillor, community calls to rename park in Calgary’s Chinatown

Councillor, community wants James Short Park, school in Calgary renamed
WATCH: A motion will be put forward to rename James Short parkade and park in Calgary's Chinatown. As Jenna Freeman reports, the change is being proposed as a way to recognize and move away from the prominent Calgarian's racist ties.

As people around the world turn their attention to the contentious names of everything to sports teams to schools that pay homage to a racist past, a Calgary park, parkade and school are the latest to be examined.

James Short Park and parkade sit just beside Calgary’s Chinatown neighbourhood, and are named after a man who was a school principal and laywer for the Anti-Chinese League, according to a notice of motion drafted by Councillor Druh Farrell.

“Short petitioned city commissioners to prohibit Chinese Canadians from establishing the third and current location of Chinatown, making the claim that Chinese Canadians would lower property values and the further contention that ‘it is for you to take up the question and set the Chinese in one section of the city as you would an isolated hospital,’” the notice of motion reads.

Farrell is calling for the city, as part of the Chinatown revitalization project Tomorrow’s Chinatown, to find a new name for the park that instead recognizes the Chinese Canadian contributions to the city.

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The request for a name change was first brought forward by members of the Chinese community, after consultation with the Chinatown Community Association, Chinatown Business Improvement Area, Sien Lok Society and Calgary Chinese Cultural Centre.

“James Short himself was a an individual who had obviously bias beliefs, and we don’t necessarily want to erase it, but we just want people to understand that, you know, that wasn’t right at that time is still not right today,” BIA director Terry Wong said.

“Let’s learn from it and let’s do the right thing tomorrow.”

A notice of motion is calling for James Short Park in Calgary’s Chinatown to be renamed.
A notice of motion is calling for James Short Park in Calgary’s Chinatown to be renamed. Kevin Billo/Global News

The notice of motion directs city administration to consult with Chinatown community members to explore the history of James Short and the Anti-Chinese Legacy’s impact on the community, as well as the relocation of Chinatown and the Chinese community’s experience.

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Making a plan for the future of Chinatown
Making a plan for the future of Chinatown

Farrell is asking that city administration report back with a list of names, recommended by the community, for the site, along with a plan to bring programming and/or installations that will tell visitors about the history of the area.

“We have a responsibility to tell both the good and the bad if we’re going to learn, learn about our history and move forward,” Farrell said Monday.

She said she “very much” wants the process to be community led.

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Wong said keeping the history present in the space despite the name change is important.

“I think it’s fundamental for all of society, especially young people, to understand that there were some behaviors of the past that are no longer acceptable,” Wong said.

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The notice of motion also asks Mayor Naheed Nenshi to encourage the Calgary Board of Education to change the name of James Short Memorial School in the southeast.

A notice of motion calls for the mayor to encourage the CBE to change the name of the James Short Memorial School in southeast Calgary.
A notice of motion calls for the mayor to encourage the CBE to change the name of the James Short Memorial School in southeast Calgary. Global News

In a letter dated July 8, the Chinese Business Improvement Area wrote it supports the notice of motion, calling it “movement to remove the blight of racism and hatred of the Chinese in Calgary during the turn of the 20th Century.”

“This year Calgary Chinatown is celebrating its 110-year anniversary. Renaming the park and the parkade through the Tomorrow’s Chinatown project is the right approach,” BIA chair Grace Su said in the letter.

“Through research, documentation and recording this blight of history in the form of a permanent plaque is appropriate as this will ensure the history will not be forgotten and not be repeated.

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“The selection of a new name through community engagement will allow the culture and contributions of Calgary’s Chinese society to be honored and revered respectfully.”

Read more: Controversial $350-million project scrapped for Calgary’s Chinatown

Along with the letter, the BIA sent a checklist it wants to see presented alongside the notice of motion to ensure the renaming process is done in consideration with the community.

— With files from Global News’ Jenna Freeman