Calls to rename Wolseley Avenue, schools in wake of anti-racism movements

A petition circulating in Winnipeg calls for the renaming of Wolseley Avenue, Lord Wolseley School and Wolseley School in Winnipeg, arguing their namesake carries a legacy of oppression.

'Power, colonization, racism — to me, that's what they represent,' Winnipeg professor says

More than 600 people have signed a petition to change the name of Wolseley School. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

A petition circulating in Winnipeg calls for the renaming of Wolseley Avenue, Lord Wolseley School and Wolseley School in Winnipeg, arguing their namesake carries a legacy of oppression. 

It's the second petition of its kind launched in Winnipeg this week in the wake of global anti-racism movements and a growing effort to take down colonial monuments.

Garnet Joseph Wolseley was a 19th-century British military general who led colonial campaigns, including the invasion of Manitoba and suppression of Louis Riel's Red River Resistance.

Emma LaRocque, a professor of Native studies at the University of Manitoba, supports the campaign to replace Wolseley's name in honour of the Métis people who battled against Wolseley's troops.

"It's a long time coming," LaRocque said.

"Wolseley was part of the colonial process to dispossess and to make the land empty of Indigenous people so that they could settle and take over the land."

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One of many colonial tributes

LaRocque, who is Métis, said Wolseley is just one name on a long list of colonial figures honoured on street signs, buildings and monuments in the city and across the country. 

"There is nowhere you can go, no town you can pass or no tourist area you can see, where there isn't some kind of heroification of the colonizer," LaRocque said.

"Power, colonization, racism — to me, that's what they represent. Falsification of history."

This week, more than 1,500 people signed a petition calling for Cecil Rhodes School on Elgin Avenue to be renamed. Rhodes was a 19th-century mining magnate, politician and imperialist who paved the way for apartheid in South Africa.  

On Monday, Winnipeg School Division trustee Jennifer Chen tabled a motion to begin discussions about renaming it, when the board meets again next fall.

Bishop Grandin Boulevard is another example, LaRocque said.

The south Winnipeg roadway is named after the Roman Catholic priest who "led the campaign for residential schools," the Truth and Reconciliation Commission said.

LaRocque said at the very least, she would like to see streets and institutions renamed, and in other cases, monuments removed, with plaques providing context and Indigenous perspectives, to provide a more informed understanding of history.

"We don't have reconciliation unless we have justice. The only way to get justice is to do justice," said LaRocque, adding young people need to see Indigenous heroes reflected in society.

As of Tuesday evening, the petition on to change the name of Wolseley schools and Wolseley Avenue had more than 600 signatures.

Renaming not an 'assault on history'

Paul Lawrie, an associate professor of history at the University of Winnipeg, said renaming schools and street names is not "an assault on history" but rather a key part of its evolution.

"Critics of this will say, 'But this is a matter of erasing history,' when in fact this is what historians do," he said, "to chart change over time."

Lawrie said removing names or tearing down statues serves a purpose, but it's just one component in addressing historical injustices and structural inequalities still at play.

"If we're going to rid ourselves of these symbols and rid ourselves of these names and these monuments, we also have to move to decolonize our education system, our health-care system, our criminal justice system."

The City of Winnipeg hasn't received the petitions yet, said an email from Jeremy Davis, Mayor Brian Bowman's press secretary.

The city started a program called Welcoming Winnipeg last year to re-examine historic place names and address the lack of Indigenous representation, he said.

"The Welcoming Winnipeg community-based committee is expected to be selected later this year and will review applications and make recommendations on creating new, adding to or removing/renaming place names and historical markers," Davis said in the email.

Those decisions will be facilitated by the Indigenous Relations Division, he said.

City councillor Cindy Gilroy, whose Daniel McIntyre ward includes the Wolseley neighbourhood, said Wednesday she is in favour of making changes.

"As we work to decolonize, these are the exact conversations that we need to have," Gilroy said in an email. "I support renaming schools and streets that are more reflective of the entire community."