'Co-creation' process launched to find new name for Edmonton's Oliver community

Having decided a year ago that Frank Oliver does not represent community values of diversity and inclusion, the community league has started the process to hire a consultant to help ensure all voices are heard.

Consultant will guide conversations to find name that will stand for the future

The Oliver Community League agreed last spring that it officially opposes the name Oliver for the neighbourhood. (Madeleine Cummings/CBC)

The Oliver Community League will hire an outside consultant to lead community consultations to help find a new name for the central Edmonton neighbourhood.

The league announced the plans Wednesday, nearly a year after its board voted to scrub the area of its namesake — Frank Oliver — and formally called on the city to launch formal consultations.

"This call to action has been answered," the league said in a statement. "Today, we are announcing the beginning of an inclusive co-creation process to discover a new name for the community."

A member of Parliament and MP and federal minister first elected to office in 1883, Oliver is known for drafting discriminatory legislation, including policies that pushed Indigenous people off their traditional lands.

He was instrumental in shaping Canada's Immigration Act of 1906 and subsequent policies which restricted immigration based on ethnic origin. He also wrote an order-in-council to bar Black immigrants fleeing persecution in the American South from entering Canada.

The consultant, to be hired through a competitive process, will be responsible for leading engagement sessions, shaping the final selection process and navigating the city approvals process. 

The community league has a $45,000 budget, funded largely by a city grant. 

The community league wants to process to be Indigenous-led and to involve all communities impacted by Oliver, including Black people, newcomers and people with disabilities.

League president Robyn Paches said the decision to hire a consultant caps off more than a year of behind-the-scenes work.

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

Oliver does not represent the community's values of diversity and inclusion, Paches said. But consultations are important and finding a partner to lead that process will help ensure all voices are heard, he said.

"We are opposed to the Oliver name for our community. However, we are just a board of 15 volunteers," Paches said.

"We have a community of 20,000 people and countless Indigenous peoples outside of our community that we want to talk to. We've heard pretty loud and clear from community members, especially our Indigenous community members, that a name change is needed." 

Efforts to remove Oliver's name from the neighbourhood, one of Edmonton's oldest and most populous, have been ongoing since last June when the Oliver Community Renaming Project was announced and a #UncoverOliver campaign was launched.

In Alberta, Oliver's legacy as a pioneering political leader has been upheld on plaques and government buildings, but there is growing scrutiny of his discriminatory policies.

A pool, a park, a school, a business square, and a community centre in the neighbourhood west of downtown all bear his name.