On the Importance of Historical Renaming

As political and social justice movements such as Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, and Idle No More have gained momentum and exposure over the last several years, a spotlight has been focused on the systemic racism, sexism, and marginalization that persists in our society.

One of the most obvious expressions of this increased awareness and self-reflection has been the re-examination of how we have chosen to commemorate historical figures by naming places, buildings, parks, and monuments in their honor.  As we discover more about the sometimes mixed and darker histories of these historical figures, the obvious question arises about whether they should continue to be commemorated.  And if they continue to be commemorated, how should we tell their full histories?

In Calgary this re-examination of historical figures is occurring firsthand.  The re-naming of the Langevin Bridge (to Reconciliation Bridge) in 2018 was a direct response to the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, and reflected Hector-Louis Langevin’s creation and support of residential schools for Indigenous children, irrespective of the fact that he was also a Father of Confederation.

Blue Monarch Management was directly involved with the planning and stakeholder engagement for the proposed renaming of the James Short Park and Parkade, in response to a Calgary City Council Notice of Motion.  (If you are interested in the history of James Short and the Calgary Chinatown Community, you can find some interesting background materials here.)

During our work with Arts and Culture, and as we have investigated and reflected upon renaming in general, we have understood some important principles, which any organization undertaking a renaming initiative should consider thoughtfully.

First, these conversations are difficult ones.  Stakeholders in the affected communities need sufficient time to reflect on the historical information presented to them and time to process the renaming in its full context.  Further, there may be generational differences in how the renaming is perceived by different members of the community.  All of the community’s perspectives must be heard and acknowledged.

Blue Monarch Management has also defined 6 key considerations that organizations undertaking a renaming initiative should embed within their engagement processes.  This will help ensure that the conversations, as difficult as they may be, will deliver a successful outcome.

By keeping these items front-of-mind, organizations can deliver renaming in a more effective and engaged way, ensuring that the outcome of renaming not only helps correct historical biases, but that it acknowledges the harm to the affected community, while taking the first steps to facilitate reconciliation.

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