What it takes to change a name
Statues and monuments honouring men and women who were, quite bluntly, racist, have been defaced and toppled all over the country for the past couple of years. It’s easy enough to remove something tangible like a statue, but how do you remove a name?
That’s the question Oliver Community League has been seriously grappling with since 2017. The league had been discussing a name change for years and even featured the history of Frank Oliver and Papaschase in The Yards that summer. OCL president Robyn Paches said the league thought hard about how to do that and hit a lot of roadblocks because, “The idea of changing an entire community’s name is daunting, and no roadmaps to successfully accomplish it exist.”
Paches said to the best of his knowledge, changing a community’s name in a purposeful way has never been done before. There are names that have changed on a whim or for other reasons like Kitchener, ON, which changed its name from Berlin in 1916 for obvious reasons.
Part of the challenge is Edmonton doesn’t actually have a renaming process, only a naming process. The Naming Committee is a volunteer-appointed group that mainly names new parks, public assets, and greenfield developments. The committee did recently work on renaming the wards, however.
The process will not be quick, but OCL is ensuring it will be done properly. In the summer of 2020, OCL began working with City Hall devising what community engagement would look like and what work needed to be done.
“We decided about halfway through that it would be best if the community league engaged a consultant, like a private partner to do the engagement, because there was no way we were going to do it justice with a board of 15 volunteers, with a community of 20,000 and major Indigenous nations and other marginalized communities,” Paches said.
After putting out a call for proposals, the community league
is close to choosing a partner to work with. Paches said
the ideal situation is to do wide-ranging town halls and surveys; take the time to develop trust and relationships with Indigenous leaders; and ensure that they’re involving marginalized communities and BIPOC.
The process could take anywhere from six months to a year. The new name will then be taken to the Naming Committee for their approval. From there it will go to City Council for a vote as all public assets will need to be renamed (Oliver Pool, Oliver Park, Oliver Arena, as well as official documents).
“OCL is taking the time to do it right and hoping to document as much as possible because we acknowledge that we’re going to be a template for a lot of other communities in the country,” Paches said.
Community engagement is key and everyone is invited to participate and give their feedback.
“The goal of the engagement is to identify values that people see in the community. What is the identity of the community we call Oliver? Then we’ll work to find names that reflect that identity,” Paches said. ■