Winnipeg street named after residential school architect an opportunity to educate public, councillor says

Winnipeg street named after residential school architect an opportunity to educate public, councillor says

Winnipeg city council has heard a request to strip Bishop Grandin Boulevard of its name because the busy street is named after an architect of residential schools. 

Residents have expressed concerns about places named after Bishop Vital-Justin Grandin, which include the south Winnipeg artery, Bishop Grandin Greenway and the St. Vital community, according to a briefing note prepared this April by the city’s archives department.

The writers did not make a recommendation, but provided context to Grandin’s complicated history.

While Grandin was a celebrated Roman Catholic priest and bishop who advocated on behalf of M├ętis rights, he also believed First Nations people needed to be “civilized” and viewed residential schools as the way to accomplish this.

Grandin lobbied the federal government to fund the construction of these schools, now likened to cultural genocide for the way children were stripped from their families and of their identities. 

His involvement was cited in the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which concluded Grandin “led the campaign for residential schooling.”

Education tool

Area councillor Brian Mayes believes the city should educate people about Grandin’s failings rather than rename the street.

“I think you don’t try to erase the history, you try to learn from it,” he said. 

The St. Vital councillor would prefer public art or some plaque beside the existing monument to present a fulsome account of Grandin’s involvement in building residential schools.

He wants any idea considered by city council to be supported by the Indigenous community.

“I may be outvoted, other councillors may want to rename the street, but that’s my preferred approach,” he said.

The debate over naming statutes and streets after controversial figures has been heightened since Victoria removed a statue last weekend of Canada’s first prime minister, John A. Macdonald. The monument was removed as a gesture of reconciliation since Macdonald helped establish the residential school system.

Grandin’s legacy has been marked in other Canadian communities, including Edmonton. 

Mural controversy

In 2011 a public outcry erupted over a mural depicting Grandin standing while a nun held an Indigenous child in her arms.

The City of Edmonton formed a working group with community members and decided to provide companion images on both sides of the original rather than painting over the controversial mural.

According to the TRC report, Grandin championed the idea of boarding schools because he believed it was essential to remove First Nations children from their families. Otherwise, he claimed, the race faced extinction because he was doubtful adult hunters and trappers could become farmers.

Grandin died in 1902 in St. Albert, Alta. 

Published at Mon, 13 Aug 2018 22:02:42 -0400