Time to rename Oliver neighbourhood, Oliver community league tells city

The Oliver community league no longer wants to be associated with Frank Oliver, and is asking the city to initiate an "inclusive co-creation process" to discover a new community name.

Frank Oliver spearheaded policies harmful to Indigenous peoples, other groups, league says

The Oliver community league officially opposes the name Oliver for the neighbourhood and is asking the city to start an "inclusive co-creation process" to discover a new name. (Madeleine Cummings/CBC)

The Oliver community league is now officially opposed to the current name of the Oliver neighbourhood and is asking the city to initiate an "inclusive co-creation process to discover a new community name."

The community league's board opposes the name "because its namesake, Frank Oliver, spearheaded many harmful policies that directly targeted Indigenous communities, people of colour, newcomers and people with disabilities," the league said in a a statement posted to its Twitter account on Tuesday.

The historic Edmonton neighbourhood sits west of downtown, bounded by 109th Street, 124th Street, 104th Avenue and the North Saskatchewan River valley.

The neighbourhood, a city park and some buildings are all named after Oliver, a provincial and federal politician in the early 1900s who formed policies that pushed Indigenous people off their traditional land.

On Sunday, the league launched the #UncoverOliver campaign with a detailed history of Oliver's life and career. 

The league is now asking the city to "initiate a deep, co-creation process" to find a new name, president Robyn Paches told CBC's Edmonton AM on Tuesday.

"We use that word purposely because we want to go beyond consultation and create something together and co-create what the future of Oliver can be," Paches said.

"What will this next name be, asking the community, asking community leaders, asking Indigenous leaders and having them really be part of that process and finding out who is this community we see in Oliver here today. 

"Oliver is the most densely populated neighbourhood in the city and I'd argue one of the most diverse communities in the city and we want a name to reflect that."

An emailed statement from a city spokesperson says Edmonton is committed to working with residents to discuss concerns and reconsider places named after individuals who "no longer reflect our diverse and inclusive community values."

"We will work with Edmontonians to discuss these concerns and consider opportunities for renaming," it said.

The league wants the renaming process to be inclusive, involving "all communities that Frank Oliver impacted."

We do not have a proposed name and nor is it our place to do so- Robyn Paches, OCL president

It says the process should be Indigenous-led, with members of Black communities, newcomers and people with disabilities to also be involved.

It also wants the city to adopt the name that is chosen through the consultation process.

"We do not have a proposed name and nor is it our place to do so," Paches said. "But we will be pushing the city and asking the city to engage in that process ... in creating in tandem a proposal for a name for city council to approve." 

In 30 years, there should be a "process of reflection, discussion and either a name renewal celebration or a renaming process" to "ensure our community's name reflects the value, hopes and identities of future generations," the statement says.

New process for renaming

City officials have told the league there has never been a neighbourhood renaming in the city's history, Paches said.

The city's naming committee is responsible for approving names but renaming would require the creation of a new engagement process, according to the city. It says the early stages of developing that process are underway.

The committee is also looking at revising a city naming policy to incorporate renaming in consultation with the community. Suggestions for renaming neighbourhoods and buildings would need to be approved by city council.

Residents and the league want the process to create tools to help other communities with place naming, said Jacquelyn Cardinal, an Oliver resident and managing director of Naheyawin, an Indigenous consulting firm in Edmonton.

"We're looking around globally and seeing that societies with colonial histories are really struggling to reconcile their past and we need new tools to be able to do so," Cardinal said. 

"We're advocating not only to change the community name but also really putting forward a new process and way of thinking about place naming, and that's what we're really excited to do — to really think differently and provide tools for other communities that may be going through the same thing."

Oliver 'a case study'

Dwayne Donald, a descendent of the Papaschase Cree and associate professor of education at the University of Alberta, is in favour of the name change.

"We already had names here and they're quite descriptive and meaningful," he said during an interview with CBC Edmonton's Radio Active. "We could do a lot better with those naming practices."

Donald says he's interested in how a name change could jump start inquiry into the ongoing influence of colonial culture in Canada.

"Frank Oliver is just a case study of systemic racism and how it was brought to the Canadian prairies," he said. "What I know as an educator is that very few people have learned anything about that."

Specializing in high school curriculum, Donald says colonialism needs to be studied as an ongoing cultural shift rather than a historical event.

"Not in a villainizing way but as a shared inheritance that lives amongst us that we need to intentionally face and unlearn."