Change urged to Victoria street named for 'racist' figure

Trutch Street was named for B.C.'s first lieutenant governor who drastically reduced the size of Indigenous reserve lands as commissioner of land and works.

Trutch Street was named for B.C. official who drastically reduced Indigenous reserve lands

The University of Victoria says Trutch's attitudes towards First Nations peoples were racist, even for his time. (Wikipedia/Library and Archives Canada)

 A growing movement to banish place names that honour a colonial politician with a racist legacy focused this week on a leafy Victoria street

The Indigenous Solidarity Working Group organized a public meeting Tuesday to discuss whether Trutch Street, in the Fairfield neighbourhood, should be renamed. 

Joseph Trutch, B.C.'s first lieutenant-governor, has become a symbol of discrimination against First Nations. He was the province's chief commissioner of land and works when he drastically reduced the size of First Nations reserve lands in the 19th century.

"There's also a number of comments which are part of the public record, suggesting fairly discriminatory comments towards First Nations people which today we would consider to be racist attitudes," Victoria Coun. Ben Isitt told On the Island host Gregor Craigie. 

Last June, the University of Victoria's board of governors decided to drop Trutch's name from one of its residence buildings. Since then, Isitt said, calls have increased for the City of Victoria to follow suit.

Reuben Rose-Redwood, an associate professor in the department of geography at the University of Victoria and co-organizer of the meeting, said now is the time to rename Trutch Street, both in Victoria and in Vancouver.

Rose-Redwood, who is lead editor of the recent book, The Political Life of Urban Streetscapes: Naming, Politics, and Place, said the UVic decision created momentum for removing all place name references to the colonial politician.

A meeting arranged for Jan. 16 sought to begin public dialogue on the power of place naming and recent calls to rename Trutch Street in the Fairfield neighbourhood of Victoria. (Google Maps)

Trutch is also the name of a ghost town near the Alaska HIghway in northeastern B.C.

Third-year Indigenous studies student Lisa Schnitzler launched the petition that led the UVic board of governors to rename the Trutch building in 2017.

Schnitzler was inspired to take action after she was challenged by a teaching assistant in a tutorial class to identify ways to advance reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

Undergrad student Lisa Schnitzler began the campaign that led the University of Victoria's board of governors to rename a residence building commemorating Trutch.

"I mentioned that the building I lived in was named after Joseph Trutch," Shnitzler said in an interview. "And my TA said, 'What are you going to do about it?'"

Schnitzler said she isn't directly involved in the new effort to wipe Trutch's name from Victoria's street map.

For now, she said she would limit her activism to speaking at the Tuesday event along with Joan Morris, an elder from the Songhees Nation, and George Abbott, a former B.C. cabinet minister and current doctoral candidate in political science at UVic.

If Trutch Street is eventually renamed, Isitt predicted more proposals for changes elsewhere will follow.

Sutlej, Denman streets next?

He said any proposals would be considered by the City of Victoria's advisory board with the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations. But he suggested a couple of other street names are 'low-hanging fruit."

"Sutlej Street [in the Cook Street Village neighbourhood] was a gunship that levelled a dozen indigenous villages," Isitt said. "The captain of that ship was Admiral Denman (a street in Fernwood)."

The question of how far to go in reconciling past wrongs through name changes will be a discussion for the community, he said.

​With files from Michael Tymchuk and CBC Radio One's On the Island.


About the Author

Deborah Wilson

CBC Victoria producer

Deborah Wilson is a journalist with CBC Radio in Victoria, B.C.