As the year of reconciliation with our indigenous people has come to a close, it will be worth having a look at significant name changes from English names into the names in indigenous languages in Canada. This will also allow us to make an initial assessment of the factors that prevented many proposed changes from having been carried out in the various Canadian provinces. This study will also examine the impact of the year of reconciliation upon renaming various names of immigrant communities or groups.
1. One factor that seems to have been working against renaming places has been the difficult pronunciation of many indigenous names. Thus, for example, two mountains in the Province of British Columbia, Mount Douglas in Victoria, and Mount Newton on the Saanich Peninsula, now carry new Salish names, respectively: Pkcals and ŁÁU,WELNEW_. In the case of the name ŁÁU,WELNEW_, it helped that it already had become the name of an indigenous high school on the Saanich Peninsula and its pronunciation (apart from the glottal stop [‚] after the first syllable) was considered to be a lot easier than Pkcals with its [pkc] sequence. So people continue to refer to the mountain as Mount Douglas but knowing very well that it has a new name that they cannot pronounce. In Edmonton, in the Province of Alberta, part of a main street was renamed to “MASKÊKOSIHK Trail” (Cree for “muskeg spruce”, i.e., [MASS-KEY-GO-SIH]), which, after some discussion among the public, proved rather easy to pronounce).
2. In a few cases, the possibility of removing a statue or of renaming an establishment was prevented by weighing the advantage of leaving the statue or not renaming an establishment because even though a dignitary may have done considerable damage to indigenous groups, the positive things that the name-bearer had done in society, or other factors, called for other remedies. But all’s well that ends well. Thus, the statue of Judge Begbie, the „hanging judge”, was removed in Vancouver following the initiative of the Law Society. This, and an official gesture on the part of the Canadian Prime Minister to pardon the hanged chiefs posthumously as innocent, satisfied the living relatives of the victims (all of them Tsilhqot’in chiefs).
In another case, however, the possible removal of the name of British army officer Jeffery Amherst from Fort Port-la-Joye – Fort Amherst in Prince Edward Island was avoided by the Government by adding the historic Mi’kmaq name of the site. Amherst had conspired to infect indigenous people with smallpox-laced blankets and „extirpate the execrable race” (National Post, May 13, 2017). The addition of the Mi’qmaq name next to the one of Amherst, however, did not satisfy John Joe Sark, a Keptin of the Mi’qmak Grand Council who, as a form of protest, had returned the province’s highest honour that had just been awarded to him, the Order of Prince Edward Island. It did, however, satisfy the government. Sark replied:”If they don’t change the name, the Canadian government is complicit in perpetuating the racist attitudes of Amherst and his like.”
3. Many indigenous nations have been lining up in front of the government office of geographical names in Victoria so there is a chance that it will take a while before their new names will have been registered. However, when that is all completed, many areas, especially on Vancouver Island, will not be recognizable to tourists as well as government officials.
4. Encouraged by this trend, other ethnic groups, especially Germans, are having a look at offensive names often dating back to their immigration years following the Nazi period in Germany or, even before that, the First World War years. Here are two examples of such names, viz., „Berlin” and „Swastika” in Canada. Not too long ago, there was an article in the Globe & Mail (August 27, 2016) that it might be time to name Kitchener (Ontario) back to Berlin because the growing self-confidence of the “Germanic” people in that area and generally in Canada demanded it (Allemang, John. “Enduring spirit: the rejuvenation of Berlin [Ontario]”. August 27, 2016). The name "Berlin", a city in the province of Ontario, Canada, had been changed in a vote to Kitchener (the name of the British commander who had gone down with his ship), following the First World War to distance Canada from the militarist German spirit. Now, before one enters the study of names, one had better have one’s linguistic terminology right: „Kitchener” is actually a Germanic word, while „Berlin” is not. Perhaps we linguists should do more in explaining language-family names: the term Germanic denotes an entire language-family just like the term Slavic does. Germanic includes, for example, English, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Icelandic, Dutch, and German.. The citizens of Berlin would like, of course, to believe that *berl- is derived from the same root as *Bär (they have Master Bruin in their city heraldry) – but it is not, the word is derived from extinct Polabian (a member of the Slavic language family) and denotes “swamp”. So if people in Kitchener want to go back to their German roots, they should pick another German city that is at least within the Germanic language family.
It’s been a year of name-changes and statue-removals, but in the small Ontario township of Puslinch, residents have voted not to rename one of the most controversial streets in Canada, the SWASTIKA TRAIL. Despite opposition from local organizers and the Jewish group B’nai Brith Canada, Puslinch town councillors voted four to one not to change the name of Swastika Trail. The small lakeside road, located just off near Highway 401 northeast of Cambridge, was named just before the rise of Nazi Germany, at a time when the swastika was still known in Canada largely as a symbol of good luck.