On Friday, Oak Bay removed the sign in what was originally known as Fireman’s Park to make way for a new, more inclusive name.
The district is still waiting on a sign to arrive with the park’s new name, Firefighter’s Park, but the city’s website already reflects the change.
Mayor Kevin Murdoch said the name change was first suggested a little over two years ago and planning has been underway.
“I think it’s one of those pieces that nobody had any objection to. The union was happy with it. The leadership was happy with it. I was happy with it. Council was happy with it. So it’s just getting done,” he said.
But many residents weren’t yet aware that change was coming.
Last week, Murdoch met with seven-year-old Grace Byrne who had collected about 200 signatures in support of renaming the park.
“She gave me a very cool little kind of a giant card with the ask on it and then signed by all of her classmates and some teachers,” he said.
Grace said she wanted to change the park’s name so that girls know they can be firefighters.
“It’s unfair that Fireman’s Park is called Fireman’s Park, because firefighters can be girls too, and Fireman’s Park only means boys,” she said.
On a large card addressed to the mayor, Grace wrote that a girl who sees the name Fireman’s Park might lose her dream of becoming a firefighter.
“I have asked my friends at school what they think and the ones who signed inside agree with me,” she wrote.
Grace, a Grade 1 student at Glenlyon Norfolk School, lives near the park and visits it regularly with her class.
She spoke to her principal about wanting to petition for a name change, and they recorded a conversation about the issue for students to watch during a video assembly. She spent a day visiting classrooms and collecting signatures from students in Grades 1 through 5.
Grace’s mom, Caley Byrne, said her daughter’s interest in equality comes from the books they read and conversations they have as a family. Grace looks up to role models Greta Thunberg, Malala Yousafzai, and Simone de Beauvoir.
Bryne said she’s proud of her daughter’s work to advocate for equality.
“We do talk a lot as a family about injustices and equality and equity measures. So, it’s cool to see that some of these messages and some of these lessons that we talk about a lot and read about a lot are starting to kind of sink in and show up in her actions out back to the world,” Byrne said.
A design for the new sign has already been approved and is in the hands of a manufacturer, Murdoch said. The district is waiting for it to arrive, but he said it’s uncertain when it will be ready to be installed in the park.
The district shared a photo of Oak Bay fire chief Darren Hughes and firefighter Jason Hodge with the old name sign from the park, which they removed Friday. Assistant chief Gord Marshall said the department supports the name change of the park, which is close to the fire station.