Travelling across the Bow River from Bridgeland, one of Calgary’s trendiest neighbourhoods, to downtown usually requires a trip across the Langevin Bridge.
But what’s on the other side isn’t quite as pretty.
In an ironic contrast to its counterpart, the south side of the bridge is ground zero for Calgary’s East Village, home to the Calgary Drop-In and Rehab Centre, and an area that, no matter how many riverfront condos pop up, will never fully shake its reputation as one of the seediest spots in the city.
In keeping with the themes of progress and modernization, on Jan. 23, Calgary city council decided that the Langevin Bridge would be renamed Reconciliation Bridge, in recognition of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s final report.
That commission resulted in an online petition in June, 2015, calling for the renaming of both Langevin Bridge and Langevin School in Bridgeland. The petition gathered over 650 signatures in its first week.
Jean Dube, an Aboriginal student advisor at SAIT’s Chinook Lodge, said she was happy to hear of the change, but questioned whether the new name was much better.
“Reconciliation is becoming the buzzword now, and I worry that it’s going to become a negative connection to the negative part of our culture and our traditions.”
Dube said she would have preferred to see a Blackfoot word or name chosen, just as Crowchild Trail and Shaganappi Trail were chosen as names for two of Calgary’s major roadways.
Petitioners argued that naming anything in honour of Hector-Louis Langevin, a father of both Confederation and the residential school system in Canada, was an insult to the multiple generations of residential school survivors, some of whom are part of Calgary’s homeless population, and often stay at the Drop-In Centre.
Fourteen council members, including Mayor Naheed Nenshi, voted in favour of the change. Only one, Ward 3 Councillor Jim Stevenson, voted against, saying he refused to be a part of the “re-writing of history.”
Calgarians, on the whole, seemed divided on the issue, with no shortage of opinions filling local newspapers and online forums.
Calgary Sun columnist, Michael Platt was against the decision.
In defending Langevin, Platt said “he was a champion of increased spending on First Nations students and better school facilities, when other MPs wanted to cut basics like the oatmeal allowance.”
But to a residential school survivor, Langevin’s good intentions couldn’t erase the years of isolation, abuse and torment.
To a survivor, a good deed may not seem all that good when the outcome is still negative, and memorializing the best of the worst won’t likely aid in the healing process.
In an informal survey conducted online and in-person by The Press, almost 65 per cent of respondents had never heard of Langevin and did not know his role in Canadian history prior to taking the survey.
Despite the majority not being familiar with the man, more 73 per cent of respondents agreed with council’s decision to change the name of the bridge. Almost nine per cent disagreed, while just under 18 per cent said they either had no opinion on the matter or didn’t care.
Only two respondents out of 48 identified as Aboriginal, Métis or Inuit people, and both were in favour of the name change.
Calgarian Frank Keller, owner of The Art of Tarot, was one of the survey’s respondents.
He didn’t agree with the name change, saying he believed it was a way for city officials to distract and appease the First Nations community in Calgary without actually implementing any of the 94 recommendations in the Truth and Reconciliation report.
Reconciliation is becoming the buzzword now, and I worry that it’s going to become a negative connection to the negative part of our culture and our traditions. – Jean Dube
Other survey respondents who disagreed with the council’s vote called the name change a “whitewashing” of history, and argued that Calgarians must recognize the ugliness in Canadian history, must be better educated about said history and must focus on building relationships with First Nations communities.
Dube said she felt there was some validity in that argument.
“It’s like the elders say in our community, ‘As a people, we need to stop leaning backwards and living in the past, and we need to learn to lean forward and look towards the future.’”