Bishop Grandin Boulevard

Commentary, Aboriginal Futures, Brian Giesbrecht

There is a concerted effort in Winnipeg to rename Bishop Grandin Boulevard. The Mayor is in support. The Bishop has been convicted of a crime he didn’t know existed when he was alive a century or so ago – thinking like a man of his time. But Grandin would be doubly amazed, given that he was actually a strong advocate of the rights of both indigenous and Métis people. An example is Grandin’s long fight to have indigenous and Métis priests, where others told him it couldn’t be done. He proved those naysayers wrong. Be that as it may, he is clearly guilty of “colonialism” and “settlerism”, so off with his head.

But what would a suitable non-settler non-colonialist replacement name be?

Well, this isn’t as easy as it sounds. Because it seems that everyone from the past is guilty of thinking …. well, like someone from the past. Those scoundrels carry all sorts of other outdated baggage as well.

Take Louis Riel, for instance. There are statues, street names and the like that bear his name. To many people, he is a great man, and very important to our history. He is that. But at times he was also corrupt, and a narcissistic lunatic. He tried to blackmail the federal government before Batoche, by making it clear that for enough money he would pacify the chiefs and skedaddle back to Montana. John A. refused to be blackmailed, and people died during the mini-rebellion that followed. Does Riel still deserve his statues and streets, or should we cancel him?

Or what about Chief Peguis? He is remembered as a man of peace, and an important historical figure. He is indeed both of those things. But he is also guilty of being a man of his time. Polygamy, misogyny, racism, and war mongering (by 2021 standards) were also part of that legacy. Expunge his name because he doesn’t fit the 2021 ideal man image?
But if all “colonialism” must go, we must dig deeper. Bishop Grandin Boulevard is a name written in English, using an alphabet. Indigenous people had neither of these things. There was no alphabet, because there was no written language. Writing is a colonialist invention. So maybe it is wrong to use writing?

Should an indigenous language be used to name the street? Which language? There are many Ojibway, Cree and Sioux people in Manitoba now, but they all came pretty late in the game. They displaced others. Even if it was decided to have a person stationed at the street to shout out a street name to passing motorists, which language should be used?
Oh yes, I forgot – there were no motorists then, only horses. But even horses were introduced by Europeans, and consequently suspect too.

And come to think of it, there were no streets then. No cities either.

So maybe we should take a breath and think this through. Winnipeg has a Métis mayor – remember, the Métis displaced indigenous tribes and exploited them too- rather self-righteously condemning a dedicated priest who advocated for Métis and indigenous people, and helped build this province. Grandin did those things when people lived much shorter and far less comfortable lives than we do today. In fact, it is thanks to people like the bishop that our lives are so much better and longer now. And this renaming is being done because of Grandin’s “colonialist” and “settler” attitudes and opinions?

Meanwhile, the mayor is doing this in a modern colonialist building in a colonialist city- in order to expunge remnants of settler colonialism. The people demanding this ending of colonialism are showing up in their settler cars, carrying their settler and colonial iPhones. After the debate they will return to their air conditioned settler houses to watch a bit of television before nodding off in their comfortable settler beds. Remember, “colonialism” gave us our good stuff, as well as our bad stuff.

Does any of this even make sense?

Plus, it is almost a certainty that in a hundred years, the 2021 renamers will be considered repulsive by 2121 standards.

Poor Bishop Grandin. He never saw this coming.

But here is the truth: Yes, Bishop Grandin and others got some things wrong. But they built a province that has given us all a vastly superior life.

Brian Giesbrecht, retired judge, is a senior fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy