Five years after the University of Victoria stripped Joseph Trutch’s name from one of its campus residences, the City of Victoria appears poised to do the same from one of its Fairfield street signs.
Council will vote at committee of the whole Thursday on changing Trutch Street to Su’it Street (pronounced suh-eat), a Lekwungen word that translates as truth, and asking First Nations for advice on cultural considerations that should be part of a re-naming process.
Trutch Street was named for Joseph Trutch, a 19th-century politician who played a key role in the province joining Confederation but was known for racist views and poor treatment of First Nations.
Trutch served as chief commissioner of lands and works and was the first lieutenant-governor of B.C. While managing aboriginal land policy, he refused to acknowledge treaties and title, and cut back reserves to make way for white settlers.
It’s about time the street named for him was renamed, said University of Victoria professor Reuben Rose-Redwood, chairman of the university’s committee for urban studies who helped organize a community dialogue in 2018 to discuss Trutch’s legacy and the need to rename the street.
In a video presentation prepared recently for council, Rose-Redwood noted commemorative street names are not simply neutral signs used to remember the past, but are commemorations that bestow honor on the historical figures.
He said when the actions or views of those historical figures no longer align with modern values, it can lead to re-evaluation of their legacy and whether the person deserves to be honored.
“Trutch Street is a textbook example of a street that deserves to be renamed because it honours a historical figure whose racist views were extreme even for his own time,” he said. “And he not only held such views, but put them into practice through policy by dramatically reducing the size of First Nations land reserves in the province.”
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said she expects little debate on the motion on Thursday, as council unanimously moved last year to have city staff look into the implications of changing the name of Trutch Street to Truth Street.
Asked why it has taken so long for the name change to get to this point, Helps said it was because it wasn’t a priority for the Esquimalt and Songhees First Nations. “And we are taking our guidance on reconciliation from them,” she said.
Trutch Street’s two blocks, which run between Richardson Street and Fairfield Road, has 116 addresses associated with it, including 12 business licences.
All addresses got a letter asking for feedback on the name change. Of the 31 responses, 21 indicated support for changing the name. Eight of the respondents supported a change of street name but did not support the proposed name of Truth.
Council will vote to change Trutch to Su’it Street as recommended by the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations.
While it’s written as su’itin English, the Lekwungen word is səʔit, a verb meaning to be true or real .
New street signage, if the change is made, would appear in both the Lekwungen (səʔit) and English (su’it) spellings.
There is no direct cost for individuals to complete a residential address name change with government agencies. City staff will work with the businesses affected by the change, as they may incur some additional costs.