Dad, why do the old folks call Cannabinia "B.C."? -

Dad, why do the old folks call Cannabinia “B.C.”?


The ongoing onomastic revolution in British Columbia reached a new high-water mark this week when a Squamish elder proposed attaching the old Squamish name “X̱wáýx̱way” to Stanley Park, and B.C. officials practically drowned him out praising the idea:

B.C. Tourism Minister Kevin Kreuger immediately endorsed the idea of putting an aboriginal name alongside the current name. “Most people this day and age think that is the right thing and a pretty cool thing to do,” he said Friday in an interview.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson added his unequivocal support. “It is an important thing to acknowledge our history in the name of that place for thousands of years prior to settlers coming here,” he told reporters.

Somebody has probably already explained to these gentlemen, who seized with such terrier eagerness on an apparent opportunity for zero-cost repentance, that “X̱wáýx̱way” was actually the name of one Squamish group of longhouses that occupied a corner of the park. Somewhere between two and a zillion other Coast Salish First Nations have claims to at least parts of the territory we call Stanley Park. Even if the park hadn’t been occupied by multiple peoples at the time of first contact, it would be even harder than usual to retroactively apply concepts of ownership in such a complicated and fluid pre-contact socioeconomic setting—one characterized by frequent, nimble maritime migration and by various historically unrecoverable folkways and easements that allowed neighbouring nations to get along peacefully, more or less, in close and sometimes overlapping quarters.

When Lord Stanley dedicated the park named after him, he declared that it was “for the use and enjoyment of peoples of all colours, creeds, and customs, for all time.” Fine words; yet, taking the aboriginal point of view, they are wicked and imperialist, mere noise designed to provide ethical cover for a revolting crime. By what right did Stanley consecrate that land, or any land not personally his own, to the use and enjoyment of mankind in general? Why, by none that we would now recognize, any more than you would accept such a declaration concerning your living room. Squamish people still lived in the longhouses of X̱wáýx̱way when Stanley spoke; beginning almost immediately, their dwellings were knocked down on various pretexts, and they were forced onto the reserves.

But we are all common beneficiaries of imperialism, we still hold to Lord Stanley’s humanist ideals despite the brutish manner in which they have often been applied, and we’re not going to give Stanley Park back to the Squamish and the Musqueam and the Tsleil-Waututh unless a few judges turn hydrophobic. (Technically it is leased federal property, and B.C.’s neither to return nor rename.) It is hard to see how an apology in the form of some bilingual signage could amount to anything but cheap grace, crossbred with historical inaccuracy and smugness. One wishes that the battle to document and protect threatened aboriginal languages—like, say, Squamish, for example—received a hundredth of the attention and support that stupid marketing gestures command with such ease.

What’s increasingly clear from the West Coast vogue for geographic revisionism is that the name of British Columbia itself cannot remain unmolested much longer. It can’t be denied that it is a little generic, old-fashioned, and awkward. “Columbia” sometimes having been used to denote the entire New World, “British Columbia” could have been the name of any particular British possession therein, or indeed of the whole of British North America. The giddy excitement displayed by Robertson and Kreuger at the thought of diluting Stanley Park’s brand shows how politicians would react, at least instinctively, to a strong renaming campaign. (Kreuger sounds particularly like a fructose-addled fourteen-year-old in his quote.) They are constitutionally incapable of resisting a good monument-building scheme, or anything else they will be able to pat themselves on the back for in retirement.

Truth be told, the renaming effort is already underway, on a cottage-industry scale; it awaits only a widely acceptable, popular choice. The good news, for those who dread the idea, is that the proposed alternatives so far are almost all unspeakably awful. For now, the sage, sensible spirit of Thomas D’Arcy McGee stands guard over B.C., but his voice grows a little weaker every year.


Dad, why do the old folks call Cannabinia “B.C.”?

  1. I left two loves on a distant strand…
    One young and fond, and fair, and bland;
    One fair, and old, and sadly grand —
    My wedded wife and my native land


  2. "Columbia" comes from the Hudson's Bay Company district attached to the Columbia River — what the Americans called Oregon Country.

    The part of Columbia District that stayed British after the treaty — British Columbia.

    Easy as pie.

    The hell with Xwayxway for Stanley Park.

    But if we're going that way, rename it Bud Country and see if you can shake down Anheuser-Busch for a few mil. (Advantage: it's still BC.)

  3. Or, when Alberta overthrows Ottawa and becomes an independent state, and British Columbia gets absorbed in the next day, we can borrow a play from our southern neighbours and simply rename BC "West Alberta".

  4. Stuff gets renamed all the time so what's the problem and why is this a national issue. Oh right, it's the aboriginal aspect that chaffs, isn't it.

    • You can't rename the City's most recognizable landmark, be it a native name or otherwise. It's just stupid.

    • very well, let's rename you. I suggest four eyed two cheeks. It seems apt.

  5. "One wishes that the battle to document and protect threatened aboriginal languages—like, say, Squamish, for example—received a hundredth of the attention and support that stupid marketing gestures command with such ease."

    This one wishes, you would have taken the opportunity to highlight the need for preserving the many languages associated with Canada that are at risk. (although partial points for mentioning in passing) It is a much more important topic that giving dual billing for the park that Stanley gave a speech at once. (Besides, he still has the cup!)

    Also for people who like to try to cheat at Scrabble, the new name would be an instant hit.

  6. Stewart_Smith: what is "the need" to preserve a language, particularly one that the speakers of can' t be bothered to foster and develop? At best, it ends up a museum piece – the aural equivalent of a butterfly chloroformed and pinned to card.

    • We go to great lengths to save endangered species. Some slug that has not done too well evolution-wise, and found itself confined to a couple of mountain valleys can reek havoc on some entrepreneur's dream. At times, such situations approach the absurd, yet in principle I support the absolute protection of biodiversity based on the Mitchel Doctrine.

      Remarkably, we treat the slug as more important than distinct human societies. With the distance of time, we understand… virtually everyone understands that unraveling the mysteries of ancient lost languages and culture is important. The cultures of the ancient Greek, Egyptians, Mayans & Dorsets are important not just to their progeny but to the entire human race. However, when it come to the vastly simpler job of preserving what we have now… we are a nation of dcarbno.

      • With the distance of time, we understand… virtually everyone understands that unraveling the mysteries of ancient lost languages and culture is important.

        That's mere assertion, Stewart. I think it would be nice to teach all school children to juggle; the trick is demonstrating that the benefits justify the costs. No question, there will be some (extremely limited) benefit from preserving -say- Squamish. Why will that be a more worthy endeavour than preserving the slug that you also worry about? Given that the Squamish people exhibit little interest in saving their own language (I went to school with their kids – they couldn't persuade their own children to make the effort) why should I care, or commit resources to this attempt?

        .. we are a nation of dcarbno.
        Thanks for the condescension – but when it comes to pissing (other people's) money away on fruitless feel good nonsense, I could say we are a nation of Stewart_Smiths – but that doesn't really advance the argument. You want to spend – and it is incumbent on you to provide a justification other than that it would make you feel good. If that is your only argument, that's fine – spend your own time and money.

  7. Over here in Asperville, I'm wondering why someone in Suncor City is even worried about renaming a park in Telus Town. It's not like our traditional public naming rights are being taken over, is it ?

    • Not by Suncor–the only thing in my city named for them is their refinery, which would be an odd thing to assert "public naming rights" over. But there are fairly loathsome examples of what you are trying to talk about.

  8. If you rename Stanley Park Xway, after the Xwing fighter, then you can rename GM place the MIllenium Falcon.

  9. Right. Without colonozation by the europeans the indigenous people of most countries would still be living in tents and caves. Time the white man is paid for all the creature comforts most of them have today. If the natives want so much back then let them give back homes, cars, agriculture, health care etc etc. Everything the white man has invented or brought with him. I am tired of being told I owe them for so called taking their land. Lets face it land belongs to those that can fight and hold no to it. Period.

    • Fantastic! I'll be seizing your house with arms next weekend. If you can't hold it, it's mine! If in 20 years your standard of living is better than it is now, you should thank me for the whole ordeal and the creature comforts you've gained.

      • Agree with Bert 100%. Long past time for apologies. Move forwards, not backwards. Tappen just dosen't get it.

      • Actually that is what happened to my family! That's why I am in Canada and not (or some genetic part of me) in Lithuania.

  10. Hey, the oldest written reference to "Ouragon" says it's a native toponym. Call the province "British Oregon" and displease everybody equally!

  11. If it weren't for the european immigration, would there even be a park there today? Did Indians even have the concept of a park, let alone an actual park?

  12. Why should we be surprised at the ignorance of our current collection of political, media and religious "leaders"? They have no knowledge of history and any history they do know they will ignore in a heartbeat in order to be seen as "progressive". More importantly they will diminish at every opportunity the achievements of the people who created our form of government and law and agree with any critic who accuses those same people of being racist.
    Pathetic and sad.

  13. I drove the Sea to Sky last week, and I was amazed to see all the signs in this invented Squamish language. I say invented, since the Squamish were a stone age people without a written language. Some enthusiastic European linguist invented their written language. It's the same with their famous “totem poles”'. These were made with metal axes introduced by us. At first I thought it was just politically correct money wasting. Just like Bob Rae and the NDP erecting universally ignored French signs on the 401; to make Ontario a bilingual province. Remember him? Of course, he has transmogrified from a total failure into an elder statesman of the Liberals. Then, I thought the left in Canada has embarked on a program of national suicide. First you tell the natives that this land is all theirs. Soon, I expect, they reply “what the hell are you doing here”. At least I can go back to my ancestral Argyle in Scotland. But what about recent immigrants from Somalia and such like hell holes?

    • The Squamish language is a real language, spoke by those people long before European came and it was written down.

  14. Well said, I agree 100%
    How about the other non-native Canadians actually get a pat on the back instead of an endless guilt trip.

  15. Hey maybe rename it "splash splash" after some marine-life that originally lived upon the shore. Of course, you wouldn't be able say "splash splash" in your imperial language, you would have to mimic the action with your arm – you f***n specieist ba$tard$!!!

  16. Utter Nonsense.