Names of certain streets elicit heated reactions from some Vancouver residents.
Take Dunsmuir Street, for example.
It's named after a ruthless Vancouver Island coal baron named Robert Dunsmuir.
After his death in 1889, the business passed to his perhaps more ruthless son James, who ran it in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
B.C. author Rod Mickleburgh points out in his new book, On the Line: A History of the British Columbia Labour Movement, that the Dunsmuir mines stood out for their cruelty to workers.
The non-Dunsmuir-owned New Vancouver Coal Mining and Land Company mines, for example, limited underground shifts to eight hours and recognized the union in the 1890s.
The Dunsmuirs, on the other hand, refused to do this.
"The Dunsmuir mines had longer workdays, lower wages, no gas and pit committees to look after safety, and of course, no union," Mickleburgh writes. "Strikers were blacklisted and union sympathizers regularly fired."
From 1889 to 1908, Dunsmuir mines averaged 23 deaths for every million tons of coal mined in B.C.
That was nearly four times above the North American average, according to A. Ross McCormack's Reformers, Rebels and Revolutionaries: The Western Canadian Radical Movement 1899-1919.
It's one of several reasons why the Dunsmuir name still rankles some in the labour movement.
Trutch name offends Indigenous people
Then there's Trutch Street on the West Side of Vancouver.
It's named after B.C.'s first land commissioner, Joseph Trutch. He abruptly ended the practice of negotiating treaties with First Nations people on Vancouver Island in the years leading up to B.C. joining Confederation.
Trutch, B.C.'s first lieutenant-governor, was a vocal advocate for placing Indigenous people on reserves, even though they were in the majority in that era. He also claimed that the federally created reserves were too large.
For many First Nations people, Trutch is one of the villains of B.C. history, yet he continues to be honoured with a street name in Vancouver.
But that could change at some point in the future.
On Tuesday (July 24), Vancouver councillor Andrea Reimer will introduce a motion to adopt a policy for renaming city streets, buildings, and places.
Reimer's motion proposes that new names can be suggested if they meet the following criteria:
* there's a rationale for changing the name and there is significance in the proposed name;
* the proposed name must be relevant to the asset;
* there must be documented support, including petitions and letters for a new name from at least 75 percent of property owners about the street, place, or building;
* the proposal must include a map or illustration, including major intersections of a street that's going to be renamed;
* and proposed names of Indigenous significance or reflect an Indigenous individual, organization, or even require consultation with the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh band councils or their designates, and adhere to appropriate Indigenous practices or protocols.
The city has recently given Indigenous names to some city assets, including a library in Strathcona and the plazas outside the Vancouver Art Gallery and the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.
But to date, no existing names have been changed.
Council declined to change names six years ago
In 2012 when an anonymous activist placed stickers on Trutch Street signs highlighting that he was a "racist bigot", city council did not make any move to rename it.
Then councillor Geoff Meggs told the Vancouver Sun at the time that Trutch's name would remain in place.
In 2012, council's refusal to entertain changing the name of Trutch Street led me to write the following commentary on Straight.com:
"The names of streets, parks, and schools can play a positive role in making people feel connected to the place where they live. These place names also inspire youth and educate us about our history.
"By retaining Trutch's name on a street in Vancouver, city council is sending a dreadful message to every aboriginal person in the city, including the kids.
"Vision Vancouver piled up massive majorities in the last two elections, but it's not willing to spend an ounce of its political capital to address this situation. In light of this, it's going to be hard to take Vision politicians seriously when they offer pious pronouncements in the future about trying to foster a more equal society."
A nonscientific Straight online poll at the time indicated that 57 percent of respondents supported renaming Trutch Street because of Joseph Trutch's policies affecting Indigneous people.
Reimer's recent motion claims that the city cannot currently rename a city asset.
However, there doesn't appear to be anything in the Vancouver Charter prohibiting the city from doing this.
Section 320 of the charter gives council power to make bylaws "for assigning names to streets and changing the names so assigned when deemed necessary".
Section 321 states: "The Council may cause the necessary filings with respect to such naming or changing of names to be made in the land title office or elsewhere."
The Vancouver Charter is provincial legislation that gives council its powers to make bylaws.
Meanwhile, Vision Vancouver mayoral candidate Ian Campbell has talked about trying to revive interest in the Indigenous place names and history of this region.
Reimer is one of Campbell's most vocal supporters.
In fact in May, when the Straight asked Campbell if he would be prepared to rename Trutch Street, he chuckled before responding: "That's something I would be happy to look into if I was successful in moving this forward. It's a really good question around the type of identity and what we're celebrating as a community."