Vancouver council unanimously in favour of renaming Trutch Street over namesake's racist history

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VANCOUVER -- Vancouver's city council voted unanimously in favour of renaming a street over the namesake's history of oppressing and displacing Indigenous people in B.C.

Mayor Kennedy Stewart announced the motion to rename Trutch Street in June. On July 8, council discussed and voted in favour of his proposal. 

“(Trutch) will always be in the history books, but what we don’t need to do is celebrate his nefarious activities, very damaging activities that ruined the lives of many Indigenous people,” Stewart said. “He basically thought Indigenous people were subhuman and the language (he used) is just terrible.”

Trutch served as the province's first lieutenant governor and as chief commissioner of lands and works, a role he used to dramatically reduce the size of Indigenous reserves.

His racist views of B.C.'s Indigenous population are well-documented. He's been quoted as describing most Indigenous people in the province as "utter savages living along the coast" in a letter to then-prime minister John A. MacDonald in 1872.

When he put the motion forward, Stewart said he'd spoken to leadership from the Musqueam Indian Band and fully supported their push to rename the street, which runs across the city's Kitsilano neighbourhood.

The Musqueam First Nation made the request to change the street name about a decade ago.

“I’ve been mayor since 2018, but the request is longstanding, well over a decade,” Stewart said. “It was brought to my attention a few months ago.”

Musqueam First Nation Chief Wayne Sparrow says he’s just relieved it’s finally happened.

“We’re very excited that (Vancouver City Council is) taking leadership and recognizing wrongdoings of the past,” Sparrow said. “Waiting five or 10 years, I think, is not too long, but finally the general public and government is finally recognizing and working diligently with the First Nations.”

Musqueam First Nation will now choose what to call the street moving forward. Sparrow says he will discuss options with elders next week and hopes to have a decision within the next month. He also hopes the new name will be “easy to pronounce.”

It’s likely more name changes will happen across Vancouver. Stewart says he’s left it open to Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations to request changes within their territories. That could include streets, statues and even schools.

Sparrow confirmed Musqueam First Nation is “considering all of them” and will work with staff and council to identify which names to change.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps is also in favour of renaming a Trutch Street in that city.

Petitions and campaigns have been launched in recent years to remove Trutch's name in both Vancouver and Victoria over his troubling history, but none of the previous ones were successful.

In 2017, the University of Victoria agreed to rename Trutch Residence following a similar petition started by a student.