Manitoba

Winnipeg street named after residential school architect an opportunity to educate public, councillor says

Winnipeg city council has heard requests to strip Bishop Grandin Boulevard of its name because the busy street is named after an architect of residential schools.

St. Vital councillor would prefer better interpretive signage about Vital-Justin Grandin

The current plaque that marks the creation of Bishop Grandin Boulevard, which was named after the famous Roman Catholic priest and bishop in 1978. (Submitted)

Winnipeg city council has heard a request to strip Bishop Grandin Boulevard of its name because the busy street is named after an architect of residential schools. 

Residents have expressed concerns about places named after Bishop Vital-Justin Grandin, which include the south Winnipeg artery, Bishop Grandin Greenway and the St. Vital community, according to a briefing note prepared this April by the city's archives department.

The writers did not make a recommendation, but provided context to Grandin's complicated history.

While Grandin was a celebrated Roman Catholic priest and bishop who advocated on behalf of Métis rights, he also believed First Nations people needed to be "civilized" and viewed residential schools as the way to accomplish this.

Grandin lobbied the federal government to fund the construction of these schools, now likened to cultural genocide for the way children were stripped from their families and of their identities. 

His involvement was cited in the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which concluded Grandin "led the campaign for residential schooling."

The debate over naming statutes and streets after controversial figures has been heightened since Victoria removed a statue last weekend of Canada's first prime minister, John A. Macdonald. The monument was ejected as a gesture of reconciliation since Macdonald helped establish the residential school system.

Education tool

Grandin's failings should be taught to city residents, rather than brushed away by renaming the street, area councillor Brian Mayes says.

"I think you don't try to erase the history, you try to learn from it."

The St. Vital councillor would prefer public art or some plaque beside the existing monument to present a thorough account of Grandin's involvement in building residential schools.

He wants any idea considered by city council to be supported by the Indigenous community.

"I may be outvoted, other councillors may want to rename the street, but that's my preferred approach," he said.

Kelly Dale Edwards, an entrepreneur and blogger, has researched Grandin's legacy for his site.

We have neighbourhoods named after him. We have malls, we have parks.- Kelly Dale Edwards

The Ojibwe from Sagkeeng First Nation learned about the former bishop a year ago when a quote from the historical figure circulated on Facebook. He was surprised how few Winnipeggers knew Grandin was one of the biggest, if not the first, lobbyist of the now condemned schooling system. 

"We have neighbourhoods named after him. We have malls, we have parks," he said.

"Everyone believes that Bishop Grandin was this really holy person, and that he should be honoured, but at the same time 20,000 Indigenous children lost their lives in residential schools."

Edwards is unsure if renaming these places is the correct response, but says further education about Grandin's tarnished legacy is a must.

Mural controversy

Elsewhere, Edmonton endured a public outcry in 2011 over a mural honouring Grandin. The painting depicted Grandin standing, while a nun held an Indigenous child in her arms.

The City of Edmonton formed a working group with community members and decided to provide companion images on both sides of the original rather than covering up the controversial mural.

According to the TRC report, Grandin championed the idea of boarding schools because he believed it was essential to remove First Nations children from their families. Otherwise, he claimed, the race faced extinction because he was doubtful adult hunters and trappers could become farmers.

Grandin died in 1902 in St. Albert, Alta. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ian Froese

Reporter

Ian Froese is a reporter with CBC Manitoba. He has previously worked for newspapers in Brandon and Steinbach. Story idea? Email: ian.froese@cbc.ca.

With files from Bartley Kives, Danelle Cloutier

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