Kennedy Stewart promises to rename Trutch Street after other Vancouver politicians ignored this issue for years

A 19th-century land commissioner's racist legacy has been mentioned on several occasions in the past on Straight.com

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      At long last, it appears as though a Vancouver politician is prepared to erase Joseph Trutch's name off the city's streetscape.

      This week, Mayor Kennedy Stewart said that he will bring forward a motion to Vancouver council to change the name of Trutch Street in Kitsilano.

      Today, Stewart tweeted that the street name is "nothing more than a symbol of hate and violence towards Indigenous People".

      "It's long past due to rename it to something that reflects pre-colonial history," the mayor declared.

      The Straight has raised this issue on many occasions over the past decade, but calls for Trutch's name to be erased were never heeded until now.

      I say the "Straight"—actually, it's been my own personal hobby horse.

      First, some history.

      Trutch was B.C.'s first lieutenant-governor after a controversial stint as the colonial chief land commissioner.

      "There were two major features to Trutch’s Indian land policy in the 1860s," the Dictionary of Canadian Biography states. "First, he confirmed the practice of not recognizing aboriginal title and, second, he made sure that Indian reserves were of minimal size. He believed that native people in British Columbia had no valid claim to the land and therefore it was unnecessary to negotiate agreements or offer compensation, either to extinguish aboriginal title or to reduce existing reserves."

      He held these views when Indigenous people were in the majority in B.C.

      Newspapers at that time argued that "Trutch’s government contracts and large landholdings meant he would have an obvious conflict of interest", the entry notes.

      "Nevertheless, in a colony where expertise was limited, Trutch’s undoubted ability as a surveyor and engineer got him the office," the section continues. "He was now in a position to make major decisions on the allocation of land to settlers and works contracts to developers."

      Back in July of 2012, I raised the issue of Trutch Street at the launch of a book by Straight contributor Gurpreet Singh.

      I pointed out that there was no street in Vancouver named after Gurdit Singh, who chartered the Komagata Maru into Vancouver's harbour in 1914 to challenge the racist Continuous Journey regulation. This rule effectively banned immigration from South Asia.

      "I find it somewhat disgusting that in Vancouver, where I live, there's a street named after Joseph Trutch, who played such a major role in discriminating against the First Nations," I said at the time. "But there's no street named after Gurdit Singh, who played a major role in fighting racism."

      The following month, stickers appeared on Trutch Street signs describing him as a "racist bigot".

      At that time, then Vision Vancouver councillor Geoff Meggs told the Vancouver Sun that the city would not rename Trutch Street. Meggs is now chief of staff to Premier John Horgan.

      Charlie Smith

      Meggs's position led me to write: "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."

      In 2014, I went on another rant about Trutch Street. Here's part of what I wrote:

      "City councillors are perhaps too thick-skulled to recognize that this colonial legacy comes at a price.

      "In a city that's increasingly of Asian origin, it's nonsensical not to reflect this in our public place names.

      "It also keeps young people in the dark about the nonwhite pioneers who built this province and deprives them of daily reminders of their legacy.

      "The way things are going in this town, I'm guessing we won't see a street named after anyone of South Asian or Philippine descent for at least another 50 years.

      "But Trutch Street will live on forever." 

      In 2018, Squamish hereditary chief Ian Campbell briefly entered the race for mayor as the Vision Vancouver candidate.

      Shortly before he announced his candidacy, I asked him if he would he change the name of Trutch Street if he became mayor.

      "Ha ha ha, that's something I would be happy to look into if I was successful in moving this forward," Campbell responded. "It's a really good question around the type of identity and what we're celebrating as a community."

      He dropped out and none of the five high-profile mayoral candidates seemed very interested in the issue.

      A couple of months later, then Vision Vancouver councillor Andrea Reimer introduced a motion offering a pathway for renaming streets, places, and buildings.

      In an article at that time, I mentioned how Trutch was seen as one of the villains in B.C. history by many Indigenous people. But council never ended up doing anything about it.

      In 2020, I once again mentioned Trutch Street in a profile of Ginger Gosnell-Myers, the Indigenous fellow at the SFU Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue. 

      Then again in March of this year, I brought up Trutch Street in an article about a book called Challenging Racist "British Columbia": 150 Years and Counting.

      Charlie Smith

      The book included this quote from Trutch: "The Indians have really no right to the lands they claim, nor are they of any actual value or utility to them and I cannot see why they should either retain these lands to the prejudice of the general interests of the Colony, or be allowed to make a market of them either to Government or to individuals."

      By that point, I was fairly sure that Trutch Street would still exist in Vancouver long after I was dead and buried. It had as much chance of being revised as the city's discriminatory at-large electoral system.

      But this week, the mayor took me by surprise. And his statement that he will try to rename Trutch Street has been welcomed by two of the region's more influential First Nations residents: Gosnell-Myers and former Musqueam councillor Wade Grant.

      Now, if Stewart can only get around to electoral reform.

      After all, he did say in the 2018 campaign that if he won, this would be the last Vancouver election ever waged under the at-large system.

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