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KNOX – A two-block stretch on the road to uncertain change

Joseph Trutch. (Image: B.C. Archives)

JOSEPH TRUTCH was an odious man.

He was racist not only in word but in action. As B.C.’s pre-Confederation land commissioner, he was contemptuous of Indigenous people, used abhorrent language when writing about them, ignored treaties and drastically reduced the size of reserves.

He was also the province’s first lieutenant-governor.

The question now is: Should his name be yanked off a street sign in Fairfield?

And, more broadly, what about the practice of yanking names in general, whether from street signs or buildings or cities or mountains?

We have been down this road (as it were) before. Three years ago, Victoria council discussed Trutch Street but did not change the name in the same way that UVic had done with a student residence bearing the Trutch name.

Now the matter is coming up again. Both Vancouver and Victoria city councils will look at renaming their respective Trutch Streets. In the capital’s case, it would affect a two-block road lined, mostly, by stately single-family homes.

At the same time, other communities are focusing on Prime Minister John A. Macdonald and his role in the creation of Canada’s residential school system. The University of Windsor announced Friday that it would rename its Macdonald Hall.

The city council in Charlottetown — the birthplace of Confederation — this week had a statue of Canada’s first prime minister hauled away. Been there, done that, says Victoria, where the removal of a city hall statue in 2018 caused an uproar that has never completely subsided.

Name changes driven by shifting historical perspectives are nothing new. Here on the Island, Transportation Ministry signmakers in the Comox Valley must be tired of the tug-of-war between B.C.’s New Democrats and Liberals, who have taken turns erecting, then taking down, then re-erecting Ginger Goodwin Way markers along a section of highway dedicated to the early 20th-century labour martyr. (Speaking of perspective: In 2019, after I bemoaned an act of graveyard vandalism in which the hammer and sickle was chipped out of Goodwin’s headstone, I was taken to task by someone who had lost family in the Stalinist purges and who argued that the symbol is as offensive as the Nazi swastika.)

Hindsight changes views. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had the name of Hector-Louis Langevin, another Father of Confederation and another architect of the residential school system, taken off a building across from Parliament Hill in 2017.

Ten years before that, the name of Howard Green, a cabinet minister synonymous with the expulsion of Japanese-Canadians in the Second World War, disappeared from a Vancouver federal building despite his family’s strenuous denial of racism charges.

Such opposition is not uncommon: In 2019, when New Westminster removed a statue of Matthew Begbie, the judge who presided over the 1864 trial at which five Tsilhqot’in chiefs were sentenced to hang, critics argued the gesture was the result of oversimplifying both the man and the story.

That’s often the accusation, that 21st-century judgments of 19th-century characters like Begbie and Macdonald tend to be one-dimensional and lacking in context.

This week Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, responding to the decision to drop the Langevin name from a Calgary school, argued that if leaders of the past are to be judged harshly for taking positions that history proved to be wrong, then the likes of Tommy Douglas, who was deemed the Greatest Canadian by CBC viewers in 2004, but who as a young man was an enthusiastic support of eugenics, would be vulnerable to cancel culture, too. The same would apply to another onetime proponent of eugenics, Nellie McClung, the suffragette whose name is on the side of a Saanich library.

Sometimes it’s not just about who these figures were as people, but about what they represent. Few would argue Macdonald was a saint. He had to resign over the Pacific Scandal, and was a notorious drinker. (He is said to have told D’Arcy McGee: “Look here, McGee, this government can’t afford two drunkards, and you’ve got to stop.”) But as our first prime minister, he is often seen as synonymous with the country itself, meaning that while to some his statue is a symbol of the sins of colonialism, to others it represents all that is good about Canada.

Trutch, on the other hand, represents nothing good at all. As UVic professor Reuben Rose-Redwood wrote in a letter to Victoria council, Trutch was someone “whose racist views were extreme even for his own time.” Rose-Redwood quoted former lieutenant-governor Iona Campagnolo as speaking of the “stain” that Trutch left on the province’s history. What argument can be made for continuing to honour such a person? What signal would that send?

A motion before council June 10 would ask staff to report on the idea of renaming the road Truth Street, covering residents’ associated costs. Input from residents, First Nations and the Fairfield Gonzales Community Association would be solicited.

jknox@timescolonist.com

About Mel Rothenburger (8243 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At ArmchairMayor.ca he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

3 Comments on KNOX – A two-block stretch on the road to uncertain change

  1. Hector Heisler // June 9, 2021 at 9:48 AM // Reply

    This is shallow virtue-signalling, without any historical context. Trutch administered what was government policy at the time — which is what his job entailed. He also embodied what were mainstream attitudes at that time. To paint him with “Trutch, on the other hand, represents nothing good at all”, is simply an emotional, adolescent simplification that provides no enlightenment whatsoever…

  2. Tony Brumell // June 7, 2021 at 5:32 PM // Reply

    Several interesting points are made here. The wrongs done by some appear to be overlooked and even rewarded and the rights done by some are also overlooked or even denied. If we as a society are going to remove reminders of ill doing then we should also errect other reminders of the good things people did. One I would re -suggest to instate as a “father of confederation” would be Luis Riel. Right now he is a semi hidden part of our history . I think that places should be made or kept for the history makers but not used as constant reminders of the ill those people did. These changes are based on todays standards of good and moral and the changes must reflect that. Maybe we can let the good people do live after them.

  3. A little known story. My grandfather Alexander Maxwell, mayor of Cumberland for about thirty years, before that time was secretary of the mine workers union .during the first war, and Ginger Goodwin was a close friend, advisor and confidant in the union movement against Dunsmuirs brutal empire and the brutal labour wars. History and the gravestone show only that Goodwin was shot. But he was hunted by a posse of hired provincial,p
    Police goons, and murdered by my grandfathers cabin on Comox Lake, Where he had hidden for several weeks, with food supplied by his friends and union members. my grandparents were there, and most miners knew as well. The press did not ask, but the gravestone,, almost adjacent to my grandparents’ graves in Cumberland, is a huge tribute to this heroic idealist and his murder by a retired, volunteer cop named Campbell, The highland tune, The Campbell’s are coming…had special meaning in our families. This heroic, TB ridden frail hero’s murder was excused because he had been a draft dodger, but the truth was that he had TB, and was medically exempt. He had also been accused of racism for opposing the use of imported Chinese
    labour in order to keep wages at minimum,…… his argument was that Canadian miners, brought earlier from England, Italy, , Scotland, Ireland, and already there, should be employed before importing Chinese or any other strike breakers. The stories abound, and .even my Granny thought Goodwin a good, decent man driven by ideals of decency in the workplace. The number of deaths in those mines was staggering. I Have the history books and the family memoirs, and the links are powerful

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