For most of us, walking the streets of The Capital is far from a politically significant experience. However, woven into our city’s fabric and reflected on its streets is a history that is anything but neutral. We walk down Begbie Street without thinking of Matthew Begbie’s penchant for sentencing indigenous people to hang, or his role in the smallpox epidemic that decimated peoples across the province. We forget the namesake of Trutch Street’s unmasked hatred for indigenous peoples and his crusade to rob them of the few rights left to them by his predecessors. We wander down Sutlej Street without recalling the role of the HMS Sutlej in the 1864 massacre of an entire village in Clayoquot Sound. We happily reduce the act of honouring bigots and thieves to a matter of course.
“The things we name our places after reflect a lot about our values,” says Eric Nordal of Social Coast. The organization is launching a campaign this week to highlight the historical violence kept alive in these names, and to lobby municipal governments to change some of those names.
Taking a lead role in the campaign is Kevin Paul, a member of the WSÃ, NEC nation who has dedicated much of his life to studying the language and history attached to this region. For Paul, new street signs are not the end of this story.
“I think there’s a need to start digging into the original history of this place, and these things give that opportunity.”
For Paul, learning our history is one of the first steps toward healing the divide between indigenous and settler communities. “Entire lives have begun and ended in other people’s territories without ever knowing the history of the place. History didn’t start when Europeans landed here, it started a long time before that — it’s still going on for me.”
We remember in painful detail the colonist’s side of history. We remember the names of crew members on the HMS Sutlej, its tours of the Pacific, the details of its construction; we forget the hundreds of innocent people who died at the hands of its crew.
Every day we honour and celebrate our demons by naming streets, mountains, parks, and institutions for the ghosts of our bitter past. M