Debate over name change mired in inflexibility


Advertise with us

A couple of names have been submitted for consideration to rename streets in Winnipeg associated with Bishop Vital-Justin Grandin.

Read this article for free:


Already have an account? Log in here »

To continue reading, please subscribe:

Monthly Digital Subscription

$4.75 per week*

  • Enjoy unlimited reading on
  • Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
  • Access News Break, our award-winning app
  • Play interactive puzzles

*Billed as $19.00 plus GST every four weeks. Cancel anytime.


A couple of names have been submitted for consideration to rename streets in Winnipeg associated with Bishop Vital-Justin Grandin.

Cue the moral outrage. Comment after comment on social media complains that the names submitted by the Indigenous Relations Division were too hard to pronounce. This from a city that has Lagimodiere Boulevard, Amarynth Crescent, Egesz Street, Cockburn Street, Arbuthnot Street, Chochinov Street and Dalgleish Bay. And that’s just a start.

So, let’s be clear. It’s not that the proposed names are too hard to pronounce; it’s that the names are decidedly Indigenous: Bishop Grandin Boulevard would be changed to Abinojii Mikanah, Bishop Grandin Trail to Awasisak Mēskanow and Grandin Street to Taapweewin Way.

A decision hasn’t been made just yet. The city’s executive policy committee meets next Monday to look at the submission.

Of course, Winnipeg is not the only city to look at renaming sites associated with Bishop Grandin because of his role in the creation of residential schools in Canada. There’s been a push for the removal of his name in Edmonton, Calgary, St. Albert and Morinville (a town just north of Edmonton). Calgary, Edmonton and St. Albert have all voted to remove the name Grandin from schools and rapid-transit stations in a nod to reconciliation.

But in Calgary, the renaming of a Catholic high school was pretty underwhelming. It was changed to Our Lady of the Rockies. That’s hardly a step towards reconciliation. More like a small, very small nod. This underscores the power dynamic in all this. The Calgary Catholic School District made a decision to go with a generic name, despite the fact that it is home to about three per cent of Canada’s Indigenous population, with several reserves living in close proximity to the city.

In Winnipeg, this is an important step to take. Winnipeg has the largest total population of urban and off-reserve Indigenous people in one city, including the largest total Métis population and the largest total First Nations population. It seems only logical that the names of our streets should reflect the names of the people who not only live here now but who have been since long before Europeans came here.

The debate over names demonstrates just how unforgiving we are of difference. In 1990, a young Kahnawake Mohawk mother was arrested for participating in the 78-day Oka Crisis. She was held four days longer than any of the other women detained because her Indigenous name, Kahentiiosta, wasn’t considered Canadian enough. The Quebec prosecutor would not accept it because it was only one word. She eventually demonstrated it was the name on her official documents, and she was released without charges.

The evolution of names and our propensity towards accepting them is socially constructed. I recall working in a television and radio newsroom in the 1980s and being told my last name was far too “ethnic-sounding.” I had to change it to something easier to remember and pronounce. I became Shannon Ross.

Of course, my surname, Sampert, had already been changed once before, at immigration in Halifax. It was also likely too ethnic for some immigration bureaucrat to hear or write. My family’s not entirely certain what it was before, but anyone with my last name is directly related to me because of that change.

In the 1980s, newsrooms everywhere suddenly stopped using the word Peking for Beijing because of a change originally initiated by the Chinese government in the late 1940s that wasn’t broadly accepted until 40 years later. Kitchener, Ont., had to change its name from Berlin in 1916 because of wartime anti-German sentiments. For years, the union city of Gdansk in Poland was referred to as Danzig. Name changes occur, people move on. This too will pass.

We certainly are comfortable with the names of Winnipeg Jets players such as Vladislav Namestnikov, Saku Mäenalanen and Kyle Capobianco. We’ve gotten used to saying names of politicians such as Judy Wasylycia-Leis, Ziad Aboultaif and Pierre Poilievre.

We can and will get used to new names, even if they are initially difficult to pronounce for some of us. More importantly, we should. It’s a gesture of respect.

Shannon Sampert is a communications consultant and former politics and perspectives editor at the Winnipeg Free Press.

Report Error Submit a Tip


Advertise With Us