An Edmonton neighbourhood association is asking the city to allow its community members to rename the area, which is named after a former federal cabinet minister whose policies a century ago targeted Indigenous and Black people.
The Oliver Community League says Frank Oliver’s treatment of Indigenous people, people of colour, newcomers and people with disabilities does not reflect the neighbourhood, located just west of the city’s downtown core. The association is calling on the City of Edmonton to launch a process to find a new name that would involve as many Oliver residents as possible, be Indigenous-led and involve all communities on which Frank Oliver had an impact.
“We believe names should be for folks that we honour, and Frank Oliver’s actions are not honourable,” said Robyn Paches, president of the Oliver Community League.
The effort to change the name of the Oliver neighbourhood is the latest example of communities reckoning with the actions of historical figures who have been commemorated in statues or have parks, schools and other locations named after them.
Jacquelyn Cardinal of the Sucker Creek Cree First Nation, who is involved in the renaming campaign, said Indigenous people living in Oliver have been talking about this name change for years. She said she knows many other Indigenous people living in the neighbourhood who have been affected in some way by Frank Oliver’s policies.
“Asking people to continue to live in a neighbourhood that reflects that name is something that I don’t think is reasonable to expect and is something that we can change quite easily,” she said.
Frank Oliver served as Minister of the Interior and Superintendent-General of Indian Affairs from 1905 to 1911. In 1906, he introduced a restrictive Immigration Act that favoured British, Northern European and American citizens; in 1911, he made an amendment to the Indian Act, known as the Oliver Act, that allowed the non-consensual removal of Indigenous people living on a reserve next to towns of 8,000 or more. Parliament was aware that the Oliver Act would cause a breach in treaty rights, but still proceeded.
The Edmonton neighbourhood was named Oliver in 1937.
The community association wants the area’s name to be periodically reviewed and potentially renamed every generation to ensure it reflects future generations.
The City of Edmonton does not currently have a process for renaming communities. Instead, a committee is responsible for naming new neighbourhoods, municipal facilities, parks and roads. In a statement, the committee said it is currently reviewing and revising its naming policy to incorporate community consultation.
Councillor Scott McKeen, whose ward includes Oliver, said he wants the community to take the lead on the name change, but he also said he hopes changing the name won’t close the door on recognizing a painful part of history.
“There’s a lot of anger, a lot of frustration, a lot of stories of disenfranchisement and oppression and fear by people of colour and our Black citizens and certainly our Indigenous citizens. So there are wounds being torn right open right now.”
Jodi Calahoo-Stonehouse, a member of the Michel First Nation and a relative of John Calahoo, the first president of the Indian Association of Alberta, said the name change is an opportunity to stop lifting up Frank Oliver as a hero.
“It’s our job to shed some light and truths around the harm he caused many Indigenous people and families ... along with what Indigenous people have done to contribute to the economic systems of this city and to the building of this city, so that we’re not looking at the city from a white supremacist view,” Ms. Calahoo-Stonehouse said.
Brent Oliver, a distant relative of Frank Oliver, was contacted by Hunter Cardinal, another Indigenous community member on the campaign, to get involved. Mr. Oliver said he supports the name change, but he would also like there to be continued public engagement and community discussions about the issue.
There have been similar efforts elsewhere in the country to remove statues or rename public spaces. For example, the City of Victoria removed a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald in August, 2018, because of his treatment of Indigenous people. A petition calling for the removal of Macdonald’s statue in Montreal has received more than 21,000 signatures.
Petitions in Toronto are calling for the renaming of Dundas Street, named after Henry Dundas, an 18th-century politician who delayed Britain’s abolition of slavery by 15 years, and for Ryerson University to take down its statue of the school’s founder, Egerton Ryerson, who aided in the development of residential schools.
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