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Should Canada change the names of streets and monuments that honour contentious figures?

This week, Vancouver passed a motion to make 150 of its street names and monuments less colonial and more diverse. In Ottawa, similar concerns were raised over Parliament's Langevin Block. Should Canada change names of streets and monuments that honour contentious figures? With host Duncan McCue.
A bilingual roadside mileage sign is shown along the Sea to Sky Highway in Squamish, British Columbia. The signs have been erected written in both English and the language of the Squamish and Lil'Wat First Nations bands who traditionally lived in the area between Vancouver and Whistler. (REUTERS/Andy Clark)
Listen to the full episode1:53:04

Vancouver just passed a motion to make 150 street names more diverse. In Ottawa, some want a less colonial name for Parliament's Langevin Block. Should Canada change the names of streets and monuments that honour contentious figures?

What's in a name?

T'was a simple but profound question asked by the Bard, and this year being the 150th anniversary of Confederation, it's a question many Canadians are asking as they gaze upon city street signs.

This week Vancouver city council decided it's time to take a second look at names, voting unanimously to diversify city signage. The idea behind the 150+ Place Naming Project is to make streets, alleyways, plazas and buildings more representative of contributions from women, immigrants, and Indigenous peoples.

Vancouver isn't the only city asking: what's in a name?

The town of Port Alberni, B.C. recently decided to keep Indian Avenue and Neill Street, which both commemorate an Indian agent who supported Japanese internment. Edmonton, on the other hand, just renamed a portion of 23rd Avenue to Maskekosihk Trail, which is a Cree word for "people of the land of medicine." 

Is this about writing new chapters of Canadian history? Or when we talk about changing street names and building names, and even taking down statues, are we also re-writing the public historical record?

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission called for better integration of Indigenous history into Canada's heritage. In that spirit Calgary's Langevin Bridge, named for a Father of Confederation who was an architect of the Indian residential school system, was renamed Reconciliation Bridge. Some want Langevin Block, the historic building across from Parliament which houses the Prime Minister's Office, renamed too. If we delve into the prickly pasts of some of Canada's historic figures, where do we draw the line?

How symbolically important is the name of a building, bridge or street? Some say, if renaming is about redress, time and money is better spent on action. Have there been concerns about any place names where you live?

Our question: Should Canada change streets and monuments that honour controversial figures?

GUESTS

Andrea Reimer, Vancouver City Councillor who brought forward 150+ Place Naming Project motion
Twitter: @andreareimer

Kaitlin Wainwright, Plaques and Markers program coordinator for Heritage Toronto
Twitter: @hellokaitlin

Ryan McMahon, Indigenous comedian, host of Colonization Road documentary
Twitter: @RMComedy

Jonathan Vance, Distinguished professor of Military History at University of Western Ontario

Cecilia Morgan, Professor at OISE, wrote "Commemorating Canada: History, Heritage, and Memory 1850s-1990s"

What we're reading

Mentioned in the show

CBC

Globe and Mail

National Post

Maclean's Magazine

The Walrus

Halifax Examiner

Nunatsiaq Online

Montreal Gazette

The Guardian

Student newspapers