The Mayor’s New Name Game

Commentary, Culture Wars, Brian Giesbrecht

Winnipeg is a great city. Brutal winters and buggy humid summers don’t dampen the enthusiasm Winnipeggers feel for the city and its vibrancy of a unique culture.

Nonetheless, a long list of civic problems requires the mayor and councillors to concentrate on bread and butter concerns such as crumbling infrastructure and crime, not street names.

Transit riders endure wind chill temperatures as low as minus 50, huddling in unheated shelters awaiting a ride with their safety not guaranteed. Liquor Commission customers risk dangerous thieves helping themselves to free liquor, while frightened store staff watch.

Winnipeg has serious problems, but Mayor Bowman wastes council’s time and money on his “reconciliation bandwagon,” lately proposing renaming long-standing places and statues.

Bowman suggests taking down a statue honouring The Royal Winnipeg Rifles. He cites the Rifles’ role in “… the deliberate, premeditated and calculated suppression of … the Metis.” Middleton and his troops suppressed the 1885 rebellion having been transported west by the Canadian Pacific Railway. (The completion of the vital railway allowed the Rifles to save Canada’s west from being swallowed up by our southern neighbour.)

The mayor says the statue of the Rifles offends some people. Who? Bowman doesn’t call for toppling of statues of Louis Riel who was hanged for treason after the rebellion was thwarted. The statues of both the Rifles and Riel should stand, representing historic events in our past.

The mayor listed a number of other important historical figures now represented in street signs, place names and monuments that he would take down.

Recognition of Donald A. Smith, Grandin, Wolseley and historic characters would disappear if the Mayor’s fuzzy logic was to prevail according to his unusual historical interpretations.

The mayor would be happy if Donald A. Smith was to be forgotten, but Smith was instrumental in the building of the CPR (he drove the last spike). While parts of his life remain controversial, he, unlike Riel, could never be considered a traitor.

Consider Chief Peguis, a hero to many but not to his tribal enemies.

Reality is that if every historical figure had to be perfect, we would have no statues or names on streets at all.

The mayor shows neither signs of understanding the importance of recognizing history nor the costs his renaming flight of fancy would eat up. Imagine the confusion that would result if brand new names for once familiar street and place names came about. And, the anger, resentment and divisiveness that would result.

Unfortunately, Bowman is not alone in this odd renaming obsession. There is a trend lately of politicians doing incredibly divisive things, such as toppling statues and renaming buildings. The truly astounding thing is that they claim to be undertaking these reckless actions in the name of “reconciliation.”

They claim to be doing these negative things to make their cities better places in which to live. In truth, they argue for actions that are the exact opposite of reconciliation.

There are a thousand and one ways in which Winnipeg can be made a better place to live. The mayor should concentrate on the bread and butter issues people elected him to improve.

He should leave historical interpretation to “balanced” and educated historians.