Edmontonians are calling on the city to remove namesakes for Bishop Vital-Justin Grandin, an early supporter and advocate of Canada’s Indigenous residential school system in the late 1800s.
Two petitions that launched Monday, and garnered more than 100 signatures by mid-afternoon, are calling on the City of Edmonton to change the name of the Grandin/Government Centre LRT Station and remove a controversial mural in the station of Grandin that depicts a residential school.
Grandin, who lived in St. Albert, championed the residential school system to the federal government and said it was the best way to remove the Indigenous culture from youth.
“We instil in them a pronounced distaste for the (Indigenous) life so that they will be humiliated when reminded of their origin,” Grandin was quotes as saying. “When they graduate from our institutions, the children have lost everything (Indigenous) except their blood.”
The petitions and calls to further condemn the history of residential schooling come after the remains of 215 children were uncovered at a former Kamloops residential school site last week.
Rob Houle, Indigenous heritage liaison with the Edmonton Heritage Council, said it is time for the city to look at removing namesakes for those who have caused harm to Indigenous people in order to better reflect society now. The mural on the LRT platform, with an outdated depiction of Indigenous people, could be very triggering to some who are simply trying to move about the city, he said.
“When you have people like that being honoured and their names being carried forward, and now we have more of these truths coming out, I think it’s time to have a frank and open conversation on whether or not the good or the achievements that they would have done in their lifetime are worth some of the violations that they’ve committed,” Houle said in an interview with Postmedia. “For me and for Indigenous people, it’s usually not a zero-sum conversation, the good does not outweigh the bad.”
A timeline for when any name changes might take place is unknown, but city spokeswoman Mary-Ann Thurber said Monday that discussions are underway for the potential renaming of both the Grandin LRT Station and the neighbourhood of Oliver.
In a statement Monday, Thurber said Edmonton’s independent naming committee is working on recommendations to create a renaming process, which currently doesn’t exist in the city’s bylaws. This will include revisions that recognize the Indigenous and Métis people who have contributed greatly to the city, Thurber said. The report is scheduled to go to council Aug. 24.
Mayor Don Iveson said he has heard the calls for change and the city is committed to engage with community organizations, particularly Indigenous groups, to move forward on reconciliation.
“These are complex questions that require a deep community engagement and the city has been committed to that in the past on this issue, and we remain committed to that,” he said. “We hear the anger and the outrage that are behind these calls for change and for justice.”
In the wake of the discovery in Kamloops, flags at Edmonton City Hall will fly at half-mast for 215 hours and the High Level Bridge will be lit orange Tuesday night.