Jack Knox: B.C. ferry-naming contest invites spirit of scorn

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Jack Knox mugshot genericOn Tuesday, B.C. Ferries invited the public to take part in a contest to name three intermediate-class vessels being built in Poland.

On Wednesday, the public replied … and replied … and replied.

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Gleefully malicious/seditious posts bearing the #NameAFerry hashtag swamped social media.

How about SS ShouldveBeenABridge?

Or Privatized Backfire?

Or Ark of the Government?

Or the Knot Pretty, Knot Cheap and Knot Maiden B.C.

Even the contest prize, $500 in B.C. Ferries travel vouchers, was a target. “$500 in travel will let my family visit me twice during my seven-month stay in Vancouver for cancer treatments,” wrote one man on the corporation’s Facebook page.

The Times Colonist editorial writers descended from the ivory tower long enough to get a couple of boots in. On page A10 of today’s paper, they argue that in declaring that no ships may be named after places or people, B.C. Ferries blew a chance to link its vessels — themselves emblematic of this province — with anything distinctly British Columbian.

The naming guidelines are not new. The geographically specific Queens/Spirits of Saanich/ Esquimalt/Vancouver Island gave way a few years ago to the Coastal Inspiration/ Celebration/ Perspiration (might not have that last one right), names as generic as a could-be-Toronto-could-be-Chicago cop show.

In the ferry corporation’s defence, it is hardly alone in that regard. Roads, cars, housing developments — modern names appear more likely to be chosen by marketing departments than historians. Even schools sound like gated retirement communities: Lakewood, Lakehill, Lakeside. … When did they last name one after a person?

It wasn’t always thus. In the Social Credit era it was common to call public structures after, well, Socred politicians: the Alex Fraser Bridge, the George Massey Tunnel, Blanshard Street’s Jack Davis Building. Williston Lake nestles against the W.A.C. Bennett Dam, not to be confused with Kelowna’s William R. Bennett Bridge (always thought old foes Bill Bennett and Dave Barrett — the Pacquiao-Mayweather of their day — should have been honoured together, with New Democrats sticking to the left lane and Socreds to the right).

After the New Democrats knocked off the Socreds, names sometimes reflected an ideological bent. Vancouver’s Second Narrows Bridge was rechristened Ironworkers Memorial. A new stretch of up-Island highway became Ginger Goodwin Way, named for an anti-war socialist labour leader who took on martyr status after being shot dead near Cumberland in 1918. But one of the B.C. Liberals’ first acts after coming to power in 2001 was to jettison Ginger from the highway signs.

This is the problem with honouring individuals: revisionist history. Today’s hero is tomorrow’s villain. Note that in 2006, the federal government dedicated a Vancouver office tower to the memory of MP Howard Green — then abruptly changed it a year later after he was labelled a racist, a charge his family denied. Couldn’t see such a turnaround happening with, say, the MV Terry Fox, though.

At least a building or ferry, unlike a geographic feature, has an expiration date. Stick a name on a ship, it’s there until the boat goes to the scrapyard; stick it on a lake or mountain, it’s there forever, harder to change than a middle-aged man. (Remember the backlash when Jean Chrétien tried to turn Mount Logan into Mount Trudeau?)

Perhaps we should just be happy that instead of holding a contest, the ferry corporation doesn’t sell the naming rights to its vessels: MV Gravol, or the SS Jolly Rogers (A Division of Bell Media).

Or perhaps we should remember that poking holes in B.C. Ferries is a Vancouver Island birthright, our version of Sticking It To The Man or tilting at windmills.

At B.C. Ferries, they recognize this (“Haters gonna hate,” sang Taylor Swift) as well as the humour behind many of the social media entries. “Some of the names we’ve seen are pretty funny,” said the corporation’s Deborah Marshall.

She said she hopes the fuss will attract more attention to the contest, and therefore more serious entries by the June 9 deadline.

jknox@timescolonist.com

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