Victoria street named for racist politician up for debate

A community-led initiative to rename Trutch Street will be debated at a public meeting in Victoria on Tuesday night.

Trutch Street was named for Joseph Trutch, a 19th-century politician known for his racist views and poor treatment of First Nations.

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“I do think that there is a growing consensus that now is the time to rename Trutch Street, both here in Victoria as well as in Vancouver,” said Reuben Rose-Redwood, chairman of the University of Victoria Committee for Urban Studies, which is sponsoring the event with the Indigenous solidarity working group.

“There are always people who disagree, so the hope is that we can have an informed and respectful dialogue about the possibility of renaming Trutch Street.”

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.

But Trutch also referred to First Nations people as “savages” and wrote that 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.

Rose-Redwood said he doesn’t necessarily buy into the “slippery slope” argument that by renaming one street, a wholesale renaming of others should occur.

“I think it’s important to take things step by step. If there are good reasons to rename other streets, then that should be something to look into, but it’s not a foregone conclusion.”

Mayor Lisa Helps noted that there has been no application yet to rename Trutch Street, but said it would be up to council to consider whatever comes forward.

“I guess it depends on what the request is and why. I would be open to it, but again, that would be a decision for council to make in consultation with the public and in consultation with the current residents of Trutch Street,” Helps said.

Meanwhile, Helps said there are “ongoing conversations” about the future of a statue of Canada’s first prime minister, John A. Macdonald, located off Pandora Avenue outside city hall.

Macdonald’s achievements include his role in establishing a national railway, but he also established Canada’s residential-school system, which separated Aboriginal children from their families and culture.

The 19th-century Conservative politician served as minister of Indian affairs and was Victoria’s Member of Parliament from 1878 to 1882.

“In my opinion, tearing down statues and pretending history didn’t happen isn’t the way to go,” Helps said, adding, however, that it is important that such statues are given context.

While there are no plans to tear down the statue, “there may be an opportunity to remove him from that post — remove the statue from that post — for the time being in order to have a conversation about reconciliation,” Helps said.

“But even if that were to be the case, that statue would reappear somewhere else in the city. I don’t think it’s responsible to simply erase history, but we need to have a different kind of conversation and give statues like the John A. Macdonald statue context.”

Last year, UVic removed Trutch’s name from one of its residences. The 48-resident building is being called Lansdowne Residence No. 1 until a new name is chosen.

Tuesday’s meeting, which begins with a panel discussion, is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Cook Street Village Activity Centre, 380 Cook St.

Participating in the panel are Rose-Redwood, Songhees elder Joan Morris, George Abbott, former provincial minister of education, and Lisa Schnitzler, who, as a UVic undergrad, petitioned the university to remove Trutch’s name from the residence.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

— With files from Sarah Petrescu

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