British Columbia

Is it time to change school and street names in Port Alberni?

Port Alberni councillor Chris Alemany says it's time to consider changing street and school names that do not reflect the current spirit of reconciliation.

Port Alberni councillor Chris Alemany says Indian Ave and Neill street don't support spirit of reconciliation

Neill Street is named after A.W. Neill, an Indian agent and MP who was a vocal proponent of Japanese internment camps. (Google Earth)

A city councillor in Port Alberni is proposing two streets and a school in his island community be renamed.

Chris Alemany believes the names Indian Avenue, Neill street and A.W. Neill Elementary school do not fit with the current spirit of reconciliation.

A.W. Neill  was an Indian agent, the mayor of Port Alberni and an island MP from 1921 to 1945. During his time in office, he was a strong supporter of Japanese internment.

"I've been trying to look at a way of changing the name," Alemany said.

"Just based on the comments, and really hateful rhetoric that this individual was known for, especially in his time in the House of Commons dealing with Japanese internment camps, immigration of Asians from all areas."

Alemany is bringing a motion to council to consider the changes to street names on January 9th. Any change to a school name would have to be made by the school board. 

Alemany says he has also been working with First Nations on the issue.

"In that spirit of reconciliation and trying to right wrongs where we may have honoured people who don't deserve the honour of a permanent name in a place like the city of Port Alberni."

Concern over honouring A. W. Neill was first raised by Christopher Stevenson, who grew up in Port Alberni.

He learned about Neill's racist legacy during a university research assignment on Japanese internment.

'We shouldn't have these names on public institutions'

"His name started to come up and not in a positive way," Stevenson said.

"He was a long term associate of groups like White Canada, that was a white supremacist group."

Stevenson says that when Neill was an Indian agent he was also responsible for residential schools and is quoted in primary documents as saying "the First Nations children needed to be watched like convicts."

"We shouldn't have these names on public institutions," Stevenson said. 

When contacted by CBC, the school board declined to comment on whether a name change is being considered for A. W. Neill Elementary.

WIth Files from Wawmeesh Hamilton