As It Happens

Push to rename Calgary's Langevin Bridge, named after 'social architect' of residential schools

He's become a polarizing figure in Canadian history. Late federal minister Hector-Louis Langevin is one of the founding Fathers of Confederation — but also as an architect of the residential school system.
Calgary's Langevin Bridge (Qyd via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)

He's become a polarizing figure in Canadian history. Late federal minister Hector-Louis Langevin is one of the founding Fathers of Confederation — but also as an architect of the residential school system.

Now some people in Calgary want to change the name of the city's Langevin Bridge.

Langevin's legacy has come under renewed scrutiny following the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report earlier this month, which described residential schools as a system of "cultural genocide."

"I have been seeking different perspectives on this from First Nations people, from our advisory committee, from historians and so on about what that might look like and I really look forward to bringing something to this council in the upcoming weeks and months," said Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi. (CBC)

Recently, a petition circulated in Calgary calling for the Langevin Bridge to be renamed. Mayor Naheed Nenshi is taking it under serious consideration, seeing it as a way for the city to participate in the reconciliation process.

"I doubt very much that people are aware of the history of the name," says Linda Many Guns. (University of Lethbridge)

Linda Many Guns, a Native Studies professor at the University of Lethbridge, also supports the renaming of the bridge — she drives over it nearly every day.

"We're not trying to remove a part of history, we're just trying to turn the page and perhaps bring a different dimension of the relationship between Aboriginal peoples and our government," Many Guns tells As It Happens host Carol Off.

"The problem was [Langevin's] role in advocating very strongly for the removal of the culture from [Aboriginal] children when they went into these systems," she says. "He was one of the social architects of the philosophy behind the removal of culture from children."

She continues: "It's not just the memory of Langevin . . . he was part of a government mentality at that time that created a mandate that was directed at Aboriginal people and the majority of the Canadian population has been kept fairly ignorant of this memory."

In addition to the Calgary bridge, a Calgary school and a park in Quebec, Hector Louis Langevin's name was given to most powerful office building in the country — Ottawa's Langevin Block. That's where you'll find the Privy Council Office, the Prime Minister's Office, and the offices of the executive branch of our Canadian government.

Langevin Block in Ottawa (Skeezix1000 via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)

We reached out to the Prime Minister's Office about Langevin Block in Ottawa. The PMO referred us to the Minister responsible, Diane Finley. Her spokesperson responded with the following: "There are no plans to rename the Langevin Block." 

Hector-Louis Langevin Park in Trois-Rivieres, Quebec was named in his honour just two years ago, on May 14th, 2013.

The federal government billed the park as part of Canada's "Economic Action Plan." A government press release makes reference to Mr. Langevin's contribution to the port of Trois-Rivieres. It says nothing about his contribution to Canada's residential school system. 

Hector-Louis Langevin played a significant role in establishing Canada's residential school system. (National Archives of Canada, July 1873)
The fact is that if you wish to educate the children you must separate them from their parents during the time they are being taught. If you leave them in the family they may know how to read and write, but they will remain savages, whereas by separating them in the way proposed, they acquire the habits and tastes…of civilized people.- Hector-Louis Langevin, 1883, on how day schools were insufficient to assimilate Aboriginal children


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