Edmonton anti-racism rally demands city scrub Oliver name

An Edmonton rally against white supremacy Saturday demanded the city drop the Oliver name from public spaces.

'It's a fair question to ask because there is real duality to the legacy of Frank Oliver,' says mayor

Hundreds gathered in front of Alberta's legislature Saturday for an anti-racism rally, in response to the violent protests in Charlottesville. (Zoe Todd/CBC)

Nearly 4,000 kilometres from the controversial Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, people gathered for a counter-protest in Edmonton.

"This is to show that we've got our own issues to think about," said rally organizer Marisa Peters.

Hundreds joined the rally Saturday, called "End Racism in Canada: A Response to Charlottesville." They gathered in front of Alberta's legislature to denounce hate and bigotry.

Activists and Indigenous leaders also called on the city ​to scrub Frank Oliver's name from schools, apartment buildings, plaques, parks and a neighbourhood in Edmonton.

Frank Oliver drafted legislation to push Indigenous people off their traditional land. (Provincial Archives of Alberta via citymuseumedmonton.ca)

Oliver, a provincial and federal politician in the early 1900s, formed policies that pushed Indigenous people off their traditional land.

In Edmonton, his policies triggered the surrender of the Papaschase Reserve near Edmonton. Oliver also negotiated the surrender of the Michel Reserve near Villeneuve, Alta.

Harold Hanly is descended from the Michel Band and says the surrender of their land "is still a sore spot."

"They weren't treated fairly at all by Frank Oliver," Hanly said.

Honouring Oliver's name in Edmonton is comparable to honouring U.S. Confederate leaders such as Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, he added.

"It's a parallel to the United States issue where they're celebrating the bad times," Hanly said.

Harold Hanly was one of hundreds to join an anti-racism rally in Edmonton Saturday. (Zoe Todd/CBC)

Hanly said he wanted to attend Saturday's rally to help raise awareness about what Oliver did to his ancestors.

"I'd like them to know the truth," Hanly said. "I just had to get off the couch and get down here and see what's happening.

"Sometimes you just have to say something and I'm here to talk."

'A complicated discussion'

At a separate event Saturday, Mayor Don Iveson said the city needs to address concerns about the Oliver name.

"People we thought were heroes did things that today just do not stand any real test of morality," Iveson told reporters.

People we thought were heroes did things that today just do not stand any real test of morality.- Mayor Don Iveson

Given the amount of city infrastructure named in Oliver's honour, Iveson said there is no overnight solution to the issue.

"It's a complicated discussion," Iveson said. "It's a fair question to ask because there is real duality to the legacy of Frank Oliver, particularly with respect to white supremacy and unjust treatment of Indigenous peoples.

"What we do about it, though, is something we're going to have to talk through."