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Street names are not innocuous

Re: “Joseph Trutch, B.C.’s first lieutenant-governor, left trail of controversy,” comment, June 17.

Re: “Joseph Trutch, B.C.’s first lieutenant-governor, left trail of controversy,” comment, June 17.

As a geographer who has studied the politics of commemorative street naming for nearly two decades, I’m glad to see that local historians are reconsidering the contested legacies of historical figures such as Joseph Trutch by organizing a series of lectures at City Hall.

If John Lutz’s article is any indication, his lecture on Trutch’s controversial legacy on Tuesday likely called attention to Trutch’s contributions as a “father of Confederation,” as well as his role as land commissioner and B.C.’s first lieutenant-governor. Lutz acknowledges that Trutch had an “antipathy to Indigenous people” and, as land commissioner, dramatically reduced the size of First Nations land reserves, in some cases by 90 per cent.

Yet regarding calls to rename Trutch Street, Lutz suggests that Trutch’s actions against Indigenous peoples have little relevance to understanding the meaning of Trutch Street, because the name of the street simply “remembers the first family to live on what became Trutch Street.”

The problem with this argument is that the meaning of a place name is not defined solely by the original intentions ascribed to it. Moreover, commemorative naming is not merely a form of “remembering” the past. It is above all else a means of honouring specific historical figures in the present.

If we are truly committed to reconciliation, how can we continue to honour a man whose name is synonymous with the dispossession of Indigenous peoples? The time has come to rename Trutch Street.

Prof. Reuben Rose-Redwood

Committee for Urban Studies

University of Victoria

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