The way the city names roads and buildings will likely change, while current names in the city, such as Grandin, will undergo a review.
On Monday, St. Albert city council voted to bring forward a business case for the 2022 budget to re-examine the current names in the community, and have a new process for naming future city infrastructure, such as neighbourhoods, recreation centres, and streets.
Coun. Natalie Joly brought forward a motion to have administration prepare a business case to revise the city’s Municipal Naming Policy and Significant Names List to account for the city’s commitments under the Payhonin Reconciliation Report and other documents.
While the motion follows a national outcry over the discovery of the bodies of 215 children in unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, Joly's motion was in the works prior to the discovery, and she had wanted to update the naming policy to be more reflective of the community’s values.
Vital-Justin Grandin – whom the Grandin neighbourhood and all other Grandin-named locations were named after – has been front and centre of a renaming debate in the region over his role in the residential school system.
Joly’s motion will have administration arrange for public engagement; gather feedback on what the community thinks about the current names used in St. Albert; determine whether any other names in current use have brought dishonour on the community; and craft a new process for how future city locations will be named.
“We've never really taken a look at our naming policies through the lens of diversity (and) looking at it from all angles,” Joly said.
The motion would undergo thorough consultation, which Joly said would be done as part of a complete forward-thinking project reflective of the city’s values.
Joly said right now everybody really wants to get moving on renaming locations in the community, especially those related to Grandin, but noted there will be better engagement if the name changes are done as part of larger conversation and in a thoughtful way.
“It really is about the process and doing better by learning and by engagement,” Joly said.
While Grandin has been central to the conversation around renaming, Joly said there may be other names that need to be changed, too.
“That doesn't mean that there might not be other people (who) we've honoured with names in St. Albert (who) have also contributed to horrors within the city, province, or country,” Joly said.
Monday's motion won't guarantee the Grandin name will change. Instead it sets forth a process to examine whether the name should be removed.
Coun. Wes Brodhead spoke in support of the motion, noting he appreciated Joly was not prescribing an outcome, but looking for a redefined process after consulting with the public.
“This is work that needs to be done, whatever the outcome,” Brodhead said.
Coun. Sheena Hughes said while she doesn’t support what Grandin did, she said the federal government funded residential schools, and has pointed the finger somewhere else. She said having a research and engagement process around the issue is helpful.
“I think that this is a good way to handle the situation. It's a very delicate situation,” Hughes said.
The councillor said many notable Canadians have done bad things, including John A. Macdonald – the first prime minister. She said she wants council to be conscious of losing history due to cancel culture.
“I think that as we move forward we have to learn from the mistakes of others and not simply forget them, because if we cancel all of our history, we actually have no opportunity to learn from it,” Hughes said.
Hughes said she would like to see a plaque or recognition where the residential schools were in St. Albert with educational opportunities to learn and acknowledge that it happened in the city.
Mayor Cathy Heron said the practice of naming locations after people may not be practical anymore.
“I feel like if we continue to just name after people we might be facing the mistakes of 50 to 60 years ago again in 50 to 60 years from now and putting the council in a difficult position to rename something,” Heron said.
“I think this is overdue.”
Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, St. Albert Gazette