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Reassessing references to historical figures with a controversial and complicated past has grabbed national headlines with the removal of the John A. Macdonald statue in Victoria, B.C.
Canada isn’t alone, Scotland has also recently removed mentions of Macdonald from official websites.
A different historical figure is now at the centre of debate in Winnipeg.
That person is Bishop Vital Justin Grandin whose name appears on the traffic corridor known as Bishop Grandin Boulevard.
Grandin is known for advocating on behalf of Métis people and defending French language rights in western Canada.
At issue is Grandin’s involvement with residential schools.
Concerns were recently raised with St.Vital city councillor Brian Mayes.
“In the wake of a couple requests from people in St.Vital to un-name the boulevard I asked archives for a report about the man Bishop Grandin,” said Mayes.
According to that report, Grandin’s past is well-documented by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
“Grandin believed that First Nations peoples needed to be “civilized” and viewed residential schools, specifically industrial schools, as the means to accomplish this mission,” read a section of the report.
It’s not only the road named after Bishop Vital Justin Grandin, the Bishop Grandin greenway also carries the name.
But you won’t see any mention of residential schools on a plaque located along a section of the road and greenway.
Mayes said a second plaque should be added explaining the history.
“I think in this instance it’s important for people to learn about this man’s role in the residential schools tragedy,” said Mayes.
Aboriginal Youth Opportunities founder Michael Redhead Champagne said residential school survivors should be consulted regarding any changes.
“As history unfolds, I think it’s important for us to be able to continuously act appropriately to the news that we discover but also in a way that I think is respectful of those who have been harmed in history,” said Champagne.
St. Vital Historical Society president Bob Holliday supports a second plaque but he said removing the name would be a mistake.
“I wouldn’t like it,” said Holliday. “We’d fight it because it can’t be renamed.”
“You cannot change history. You can learn from it but you can’t change it.”
Mayes said he plans to work with Champagne on the issue.
There’s no immediate action expected due to the upcoming civic election.
Mayor Brian Bowman’s press secretary said in a statement the mayor believes a balance needs to be struck between erasing history and educating citizens.
The mayor’s Indigenous Advisory Circle is considering how the city should deal with landmarks named after people with controversial history and Bowman expects to hear back at their next meeting.
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