“I’ll catch up to you at Ogden Point,” I panted as she pulled away on her bike.
She slowed, shook her head: “No, it’s called the Breakwater District now. They changed it while you were on holiday.”
I wasn’t falling for that one. Next thing I knew, she’d be trying to tell me Vancouver Island cops tasered an emu while I was gone.
No, no, it turns out she wasn’t kidding. I leave for a couple of weeks and the whole city goes to hell, or perhaps to the Hell District. Sorry. My fault.
This has happened before: A few years ago I came back from vacation and found the Times Colonist had arbitrarily changed Saltspring Island to Salt Spring Island. It used to be that a grumpy editor (ed. note: redundant) would horsewhip you for writing Salt Spring, two words, but now you get horsewhipped for one.
This time it’s the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority that is behind the renaming notion, which has gone over about as well as you would expect in a city (motto: “We liked the old one better”) that embraces imposed change with all the enthusiasm of a vegan at Ribfest. A spate of letters to the editor castigated the harbour authority (though social media, triggered by some sort of Pavlov’s dog reflex, blamed Lisa Helps instead) for having the temerity to trashpile this Ogden fellow, whom we are sure would mean a lot to us if we knew who he was, which most of us don’t (my bet: inventor of Velcro), or at least didn’t until this Breakwater District business came up.
The good news for those offended on his behalf is that Ogden Point will, in fact, remain Ogden Point on the map. The harbour authority may, if it likes, rebrand its James Bay facilities in the same way the operators of shopping centres or hockey rinks do (though, jeez, torch-bearing mobs swarm our streets when that happens, too) but it has no ability to change the name of geographical features. That power rests with the B.C. Geographical Names Office, an agency of the provincial government, and it has received no request to shoo Ogden out of the atlas. Nor does it plan to do so.
There is, in fact, a long list of guidelines governing the naming (and renaming) of points, creeks, lakes, mountains and whatnot. For example: no calling anything after a person until said person has been dead at least two years, no naming anything to mark the place of a tragedy, no company or commercial product names.
One of the leading principles is that long-standing local usage should prevail. There’s no point jamming new names down the throats of people who have no appetite for change and don’t plan to swallow it.
This principle can be applied to other place names, too. There are still pockets of resistance to the mid-1990s move to slap a new coat of paint on the Western Communities and call the area the West Shore (it didn’t help that there was no consensus on the spelling, which is why we now have the Westshore Town Centre mall, WestShore Chamber of Commerce and the West Shore RCMP, whose officers testify in the Western Communities Courthouse).
It turns out Canadians get particularly fussed when politicians try to mess with features that are already named. In 1946, there was a big fuss when Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King renamed Alberta’s Castle Mountain after U.S. general Dwight Eisenhower. The brouhaha dragged on for 33 years, until it was decided that Castle Mountain would make a comeback, with its eastern elevation becoming Eisenhower Peak.
It gets really contentious when the feature in question commemorates a person. There was a backlash in 2000 when, after Pierre Trudeau died, prime minister Jean Chrétien announced Canada’s highest peak, Mount Logan — named for Sir William Logan, founder of the Geological Survey of Canada — would be rechristened in Trudeau’s honour. Nothing against Trudeau, but it offended people that instead of being celebrated in perpetuity, Logan was to be relegated to Employee of the Month, his place on the map written in disappearing ink. With the public unwilling to go along with a decision Chrétien had imposed from on high, the prime minister was forced to climb down from his position on the mountain, which continues to bear Logan’s name.
You can lead a horse to Breakwater, but you can’t make it drink.