What’s in a name?
It’s a question on the minds of many right now.
Across Canada, there have been instances in recent weeks of organizations, school boards and city halls taking steps to renames places and buildings that honour people with troubled histories.
“What’s truly in a name? A name change, to me, that I learned that has impacted me is healing,” Oliver Community League president Robyn Paches said Wednesday.
For the Oliver community, the conversation to change the central Edmonton neighbourhood’s name started in 2017, when anti-racism rallies were held across North America in response to the events in Charlottesville.
In Edmonton, protestors wondered why a neighbourhood in the city was named after Frank Oliver.
Oliver was a journalist and started Edmonton’s first paper, the Edmonton Bulletin.
“At the time, Frank Oliver was put up as the picture of what the West was. He was an ideal pioneer,” Paches said. “He had a key hand in forming the national parks system.
“The reason that he is so controversial is that all came with a very problematic price.”
Oliver was an active perpetrator in chasing the Papaschase and Michel Bands from their land. He used the Edmonton Bulletin to push negative stereotypes, according to the community league. He also used his position as an MP to put forward anti-immigration policies that added preference to people of certain races.
The community league is now moving forward with a name change. Right now, it is creating a committee that will work with the city, and they hope to hire a consultant.
“(It’s) an exciting day because we are essentially accomplishing our first of goal of getting that engagement started,” Paches said.
“When we eventually do our presentation to the naming committee for city council, we want to make sure that we have clear data that the name change is warranted.”
Hunter Cardinal used to live in the Oliver neighbourhood and volunteers with #UncoverOliver. Cardinal said the name can hold a lot of pain — not just for him, but for others too.
“It was a reminder of a lot of policies that were directly targeted to Indigenous Peoples that resulted in not only the losing of our treaty rights, which were incredibly important, but a severing to our land, our culture and our opportunity,” Cardinal said.
“The disruptions that were caused of the forced removal of Indigenous people from our lands, we are still seeing that today.
“I’m not invested in what the name will be. I’m really looking forward to conversation and a whole variety of voices to come together and wholeheartedly, holistically engage in this conversation, who are we as a community.”
In the past two weeks in Alberta, actions have been taken to change the names of places that honour people integral to helping residential schools.
In Calgary, Langevin School’s name was changed. This week in Edmonton, a mural at Grandin Station was covered and the name has been temporarily changed to Government Central as work begins to choose a new one.
University of Manitoba historian Sean Carleton stresses that changing names doesn’t erase history.
“That doesn’t change history; it simply means how we commemorate and communicate who we are looking up to from the past and what does that look like in the present? That is what is changing,” Carleton said.
“If done right, it’s about dialogue. It’s about working together. It’s about figuring out how our community spaces can best reflect the kinds of values we want everyone to look up to.
“What’s the risk of not doing anything? What are the risks of continuing to celebrate architects of genocide in public? For most non-Indigenous people, it doesn’t have any barring, but for some Indigenous people, those are symbols of oppression and reminders of what happened to them or community members or family members.”
There is no timeline for when the Oliver neighbourhood could be renamed.