A park by any other name …
By Bill Phillips
OK, call me a coward for not wading into the park renaming debate earlier.
I held off because I wasn’t really sure how I felt about it. In that regard, I’m probably in the minority. Judging by the comments flying back and forth online, a good many people in Prince George have strong views about changing the name of Fort George Park to Lheidli T’enneh Memorial Park … for and against.
There have been some good, intelligent comments on the name change, but it’s been tough wading through the bigoted and racist remarks that have dominated this issue. It’s even had an impact on the Hell Yeah Prince George Facebook page, which is dedicated to positively promoting the city. Scott McWalter, who originated the site, posted that administrators were so overwhelmed with the volume of comments, complete with bigotry and racism, that they decided to expunge all comments that referenced Fort George Park. That didn’t stop the social media mavens who then aimed their vitriol at the Hell Yeah Prince George folks.
It’s an understatement to say that this has been a divisive issue in Prince George.
As I grappled with whether I liked the idea of the name change or not, my thoughts turned north and west. It wasn’t too long ago that we drove a line down the middle of the Northwest Territories and created Nunavut. In addition, we now have a generation who know where Haida Gwaii is but would be hard pressed to tell you about the Queen Charlotte Islands.
We’ve done this without the world screeching to a halt and society crumbling around is. It’s my understanding that Fort George Park used to be called Simon Fraser Park, so it’s not like the park hasn’t been through this before.
We have to ask ourselves do we object to changing the name of the park, or do we object to the name that has been chosen?
If we are objecting to the name chosen, and objecting because it is a First Nations name, then that’s not a good enough reason to go all colonial on everyone.
There is no doubt that renaming the park Lheidli T’enneh Memorial Park is a way to recognize and celebrate the cultural heritage of the Lheidli T’enneh, who lived there prior to 1913. I get that. I don’t have a problem with that.
The concern I have, and it’s been shared by some, is that are we, by recognizing the cultural heritage of one group, forsaking the cultural heritage of another?
Fort George Park commemorates the community of Fort George, which was established in 1807 and eventually became Prince George in 1915. Like it or not, good or bad, that, now, is as much a part of this city’s history and cultural heritage as the Lheidli T’enneh. It’s ironic that the park is going from being named after a community that ceased to be because Prince George was growing to being named after a community that ceased to be because Prince George was growing. However, there is no comparison in the methods … the good folks of Fort George simply became citizens of Prince George while the good folks of Lheidli T’enneh were sent up the river … literally.
I have no problem changing the name of Fort George Park to Lheidli T’enneh Memorial Park as long as, in our zeal to be reconciliatory and all that, we don’t forget that there is a non-native cultural heritage to this area as well. We need to find a way to recognize, promote, and celebrate both.
If park names are a way to do that, then why not change Cottonwood Island Park to Fort George Park? We already have the signs.
Bill Phillips is a freelance columnist living in Prince George. He was the winner of the 2009 Best Editorial award at the British Columbia/Yukon Community Newspaper Association’s Ma Murray awards, in 2007 he won the association’s Best Columnist award. In 2004, he placed third in the Canadian Community Newspaper best columnist category and, in 2003, placed second. He can be reached at email@example.com