Trutch name wiped from UVic residence; petition cites his racist actions

The University of Victoria will remove the name of Joseph Trutch, a 19th-century politician, from one of its residences, saying his racist views and treatment of First Nations do not align with the school’s values.

“It’s about being consistent with our mission and our values. And, it was just time,” said Carmen Charette, vice-president of external relations. She said the decision to rename Trutch Hall was unanimous, with support from the board of governors, president Jamie Cassels and a naming advisory committee.

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Trutch was a British surveyor who came to B.C. in the 1850s, and served as chief commissioner of lands and works.

He was the first lieutenant-governor of B.C. after playing a key role in the province joining Confederation in 1871, the reason he was included when UVic’s Lansdowne residence complex was named in 1969.

Trutch referred to First Nations people as “savages” and wrote they were “the ugliest and laziest creatures I ever saw.” His job included managing aboriginal land policy and, despite the British mandate of fair treatment, he refused to acknowledge treaties and title, cutting back reserves to make way for white settlers.

Charette said that after several campaigns to rename Trutch Hall, a student compelled the board to act.

Lisa Schnitzler, 20, said she was in her second year of English and indigenous studies when she examined the background of the building in which she lived.

“I was really surprised and discussed this with a [teaching assistant] who said: ‘So what are you going to do about it?’ ” said Schnitzler, who has Cree heritage and is from the Kelowna area.

She posted a petition to Facebook, which garnered about 100 signatures in support, as well as criticism.

“There were a few people who said everyone was racist back then and that we can’t erase history,” said Schnitzler. She replied with the motto from a Yale University campaign to drop the name of a slavery advocate from one of its colleges.

“We’re not erasing history, we’re confronting it,” she said.

Schnitzler said when she presented her argument to UVic, she used policy and statements from the university’s website that support core values of inclusiveness and reconciliation efforts with indigenous people.

She spoke about the impact on aboriginal students to have buildings named after people such as Trutch. “I’m happy to say no indigenous students will have to confront living in Trutch Hall,” she said, adding she hopes the building will be renamed with input from local First Nations.

The 48-resident building will be Lansdowne Residence No. 1 until a new name is chosen, the university said.

Clarence “Butch” Dick, an elder and educator from the Songhees First Nation, suggested the name “Lekwungen Lelum [house]” to honour the territory of the Lekwungen-speaking people.

“I’m not aware of the Trutch name and we don’t like to speak unkindly of people. But if it promotes acceptance of the original inhabitants of this land, then it’s important,” Dick said. “Our visibility is important. People look at our people in museums, but don’t see we’re still a thriving community.”

Victoria Coun. Ben Isitt said UVic’s decision to drop Trutch’s name has reignited his interest in renaming Trutch Street in Fairfield. A campaign about that street a few years ago eventually resulted in reclaiming the name PKOLS for Mount Douglas.

“I plan to reach out to First Nations and community groups and see if there’s support to bring this to council,” Isitt said.

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