British Columbia

Motions to fast-track reconciliation name changes put on hold in New Westminster

The City of New Westminster has decided against renaming, or asking to rename, a street, square and park as part of its reconciliation efforts — at least for the time being. 

Majority of council says reconciliation efforts shouldn't be driven by councillor-led motions

A statue of Judge Matthew Begbie had previously been removed from a provincial courthouse square by New Westminster council in 2019. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The City of New Westminster has decided against renaming, or asking to rename, a street, square and park as part of its reconciliation efforts — at least for the time being.  

In two separate motions, Coun. Chuck Puchmayr had asked council to rename Begbie Square and Bebgie Street to Chief Ahan Square and Chief Ahan Street, respectively; and asked Metro Vancouver to rename Sapperton Landing Park to Qayqayt Landing Park.

But Puchmayr's motion on the park was defeated, and he pulled his motion on changing Begbie Square and Begbie Street to allow for more conversation with Indigenous groups.

"I think it's important that there's more consultation," he said. 

"I really want to make sure I have a very strong position on [my motions], which I believe I already have, but want to make sure."

'It's going to be a difficult journey'

Sapperton Landing Park, located on the bank of the Fraser River just north of the Pattullo Bridge, is under Metro Vancouver jurisdiction and opened in 2001.

Puchmayr, who was a councillor at that time, says he regrets the choice of name for such a relatively new park.

"I wish we had our minds wrapped around [reconciliation] when the [park] came in," he said.

"We were still of the era when everything we built seemed to need some sort of historic colonizer flavour."

On Monday, other councillors expressed a concern that Puchmayr's requests were sporadic, and not according to the reconciliation process the city has committed to. 

"We all recognize this is going to be a long journey for us, and at times it's going to be a difficult journey, being the original colonial city," said Mayor Jonathan Coté, referring to New Westminster's status as B.C.'s oldest city and first capital.

"I've always been uncomfortable with this table leading the reconciliation process, because to me that doesn't speak to genuine reconciliation."

Coun. Nadine Nakagawa, who put forward the motion on the Begbie statue, said the city hadn't heard enough from the Indigenous community about Puchmayr's motions. 

"What is meaningful reconciliation? What does that mean?" she asked.

"What does that look like? Not that we're generating that idea, but that we're hearing what it means for First Nations in this community. I don't want to prejudge on what that is ... or what those asks could be." 

Begbie Street and Begbie Square are in the heart of New Westminster's downtown area. (Google Maps)

Begbie statue removed

The street and square at the centre of Puchmayr's planned second motion are named after Matthew Begbie, who served as the chief justice of British Columbia for close to four decades in the 19th century.

In May, New Westminster's council approved removing a statue of Begbie that stood outside the provincial courthouse, following a motion put forward by Nakagawa.

While 20th-century B.C. historians have generally praised Begbie's tenure and his role in upholding the law, his part in the conflict known as the Chilcotin Uprising has come under broader scrutiny in recent years.

During a period when the Tsilhqot'in were at war with the Colony of British Columbia, five chiefs were deceived into meeting with government officials for the apparent purpose of peace talks, then arrested.

Begbie, known later as the "hanging judge," was involved in the trial and execution of the chiefs. A sixth chief, Ahan, was hanged in downtown New Westminster a year later.

The province apologized and exonerated the chiefs in 2014, with the federal government following suit in 2018.