Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson is calling for city support to change the name of the Grandin LRT Station and cover the mural at the site.
“Like many Edmontonians, I am concerned about the Grandin LRT Station mural and sites bearing the Grandin name, including the station,” the mayor said in a statement Thursday morning.
“It is time to take this action.”
In response to the discovery of the remains of 215 Indigenous children buried in unmarked graves at a residential school in Kamloops, B.C., there have been calls across the country and right here in Edmonton to rename schools, train stations and other public places that are named after the architects of the residential school system.
Bishop Vital-Justin Grandin was an early advocate of the residential school system who lobbied the Canadian government to fund residential schools in the late 1800s.
“I agree with residential school survivors, their families, and the thousands of Edmontonians from all walks of life who are calling on the city to address the mural, and remove his name from the LRT station and area,” Iveson said.
“The legacy of residential schools unambiguously represents cultural genocide in this country.
“It’s not just Indigenous Canadians asking for it and a small number of allies amplifying it, it is a very widespread societal demand and I suspect it will weigh heavily on most, if not all, councillors.”
Iveson said he will put forward a motion to city council on Monday, directing the city to take the following immediate steps:
- remove reference to Grandin in the station and on civic signage, as well as in the audible LRT announcements as soon as possible
- cover the original portion of the mural with orange at earliest opportunity
- consult with the Grandin working circle on next steps for the mural
- ask the naming committee to work with the Grandin working circle to bring recommendations for a new name or names for the station and district that contributes to reconciliation
“It was time to at least cover the mural while we got through a more complex process related to its removal and that we remove the name, at least on the station and on the LRT announcements,” Iveson said.
“People are reporting that even hearing it and seeing it is now re-traumatizing.”
The Francophonie jeunesse de l’Alberta board of the day commissioned mural in 1989. It depicts Bishop Grandin and a nun removing an Indigenous baby from their family. Behind them, is Bishop’s house, according to the Francophonie jeunesse de l’Alberta.
The mural was originally created to mark the historical contributions of Alberta’s Francophone community, particularly Bishop Grandin.
Samson Cree Nation Coun. Katherine Swampy is thrilled by the mayor’s move.
“It’s remarkable, really. It’s a moment of action,” she said
“People know exactly what Grandin did. Maybe a long time ago they weren’t familiar with all of the actions that took place at residential schools so they were fine with setting up this monument, because in their eyes, he was this wonderful person who was helping Indigenous people, but now that they know the truth — why would they want to honour somebody who hurt so many people?
“I hear that people are complaining that we are trying to rewrite history and no, we’re not trying to rewrite history…. A lot of the changes we’re standing up for and we’re asking for and we want to see, such as these name changes, they are meaningful, especially for the survivors of residential schools who are still here.”
Swampy said residential school survivors and their families are still dealing with intergenerational trauma.
“Physical abuse, domestic abuse, sexual abuse — these are things that were given to our people that have come from residential school and you still see them prevalent until this day. That is intergenerational trauma,” she explained.
“A lot of Indigenous people were raised without the Cree language or without any of our traditional medicines or without our dances, without our songs, without our drums, without any of our culture. And they want it, you know? They want it.”
Elder Taz Augustine said she’s happy to hear the news, but said it’s just one step and more needs to be done.
“I hated going to that stupid LRT station and seeing that, glorifying the priests and the nuns. That’s just hard.”
This is not the first time calls have been made to remove the mural, following concerns that the imagery evoked the troubling history of the residential schools.
In 2011, Francophonie jeunesse de l’Alberta, the City of Edmonton and various community agencies created a working circle to find solutions to the issue. The collective decision was made to re-envision the original work and commission a new mural.
New murals were created by now Coun. Aaron Paquette.
Sylvie Nadeau, who commissioned the original artwork, added two panels to her piece. The panels, depicting an Indigenous boy and girl, “speak” to the new mural by Paquette, according to the city.
The new mural depicts more than 10,000 years of Indigenous history in the Edmonton area and, through the use of colour and symbol, paints a portrait of hope and healing.
After repeated calls to remove the original artwork emerged again, another working circle was created in September 2020.
“Today, we recognize all of the harm and pain that it causes, depicting a very harmful person for the Indigenous communities of Alberta and Canada,” said Francophonie jeunesse de l’Alberta president Gloria Livingston, who is part of the working circle.
“We are ready for change, our organization is ready for change. We are ready to put everything we have into it and make it a place that does not cause harm, make it a place where someone can see it and feel proud.”
In a statement to Global News, Nadeau said “I think it is time to take the original mural created in 1989 down.”
Sebastian Barrera helped launch a petition in Edmonton on Monday to demand the renaming of the Grandin LRT Station. In two days, he said the petition garnered nearly 2,000 signatures.
“We’re honouring, with these public spaces, people who actively participated in genocide,” Barrera said.
“What can we do as Edmonton citizens to change this reality?”
Iveson said the city’s Indigenous Relations Office and Edmonton Transit Service were already working with stakeholders, including Indigenous elders and residential schools survivors, the Francophonie jeunesse de l’Alberta, Société historique francophone de l’Alberta, the Edmonton Arts Council and the Edmonton Heritage Council to provide guidance on the Grandin LRT Station murals, renaming, interpretation and reconciliation efforts.
“I’m hopeful this action will provide immediate relief as well as offer a clear timeline for when these steps will unfold,” Iveson continued in his statement.
“I understand time to properly consult and engage with community is needed to make all these changes – however, I hope my motion demonstrates to Indigenous communities, residential school survivors, and allies of reconciliation that their concerns are being heard and acted upon, and so that we can minimize the re-traumatization that takes place as a result of the mural and name.”
Livingston said no final decisions have been made on what type of artwork will eventually replace the current mural.
“It’s going to still honour the Francophone culture of Alberta,” she said.
“There’s going to absolutely be an explanation of the history behind it. I don’t know if it’s going to be a plaque yet or if it’s just going to be maybe a speaker that’s going to talk all the time, but it’s going to explain the work that went into it and explain its legacy.”
The mayor said he also wants to address broader concerns from Edmontonians about historical place names that highlight people whose views or actions “no longer reflect our diverse and inclusive community values.”
Iveson said the City of Edmonton’s Naming Committee is currently reviewing and revising its naming policy to incorporate a renaming policy in consultation with the community. A report on this scheduled to be heard at city council in August.
There is a Grandin Elementary School within Edmonton Catholic Schools. Board chair Sandra Palazzo said in a statement Thursday there is no escaping the horror of the discovery of the 215 children in Kamloops.
“As a Catholic School Division, we are profoundly saddened by the damage and legacy of residential schools. Edmonton Catholic Schools is reviewing the name of Grandin Catholic Elementary School and determining the best path forward. The discovery has underscored the need for all parts of society, including school jurisdictions, to re-examine the use of namesakes that are tied to the legacy of residential schools.”
Earlier this week, Grandin Fish ‘N’ Chips took to social media to announce plans to change its name and rebrand.
“We are aware of Bishop Grandin’s involvement in residential schools and work to actively harm our Indigenous brothers, sisters and folx. It is heartbreaking, wrong, and we don’t condone it in any way,” read a post on the restaurant’s Instagram page.
“Please allow us time, as we were hoping to make the name change along with the community, but now don’t think we can wait that long as it doesn’t seem to be progressing quickly.”
Iveson said for the time being, the LRT station would likely be referred to as Government Centre until such time a naming committee can bring forward other options.