Daniel Francis

Reading the National Narrative


Cancelling Trutch

June 4, 2021

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart has served notice he wants to change the name of Trutch Street, a Kitsilano neighbourhood thoroughfare. The street is named for a nineteenth century colonial official in British Columbia.

There is a lot of debate these days about removing statues and renaming buildings, but this one is a no-brainer.

Several years ago Canada's History magazine compiled a tongue-in-cheek list of "worst Canadians" and invited me to make a contribution. Trutch topped my list of all-time villains. Here is what I wrote.

"During his thirty years in British Columbia, Joseph Trutch (1826-1904) was many things: roadbuilder, politician, lieutenant-governor, advocate of Confederation, anti-democrat, confidante of premiers and prime ministers. But his place in the Hall of Shame is secured by the seven years he spent as BC’s chief commissioner of lands and works from 1864 to 1871. The job sounds innocuous enough, but in pre-Confederation BC it included responsibility for "Indian" policy. It was here that Trutch did maximum damage. In his view the First Nations were “uncivilized savages” who deserved nothing for their land. In fact, he thought the sooner it was taken from them, the sooner BC would develop into a model European society. Trutch broke with the more generous policies of Governor James Douglas, taking back land that already had been granted to the First Nations and ensuring that the best of the rest went to white settlers. Most importantly, he denied that First Nations had any aboriginal title to their territories, an opinion that contradicted established British policy but one that nonetheless prevailed. As historian Robin Fisher notes, Trutch “left British Columbia with a legacy of litigation and a political problem that is unresolved to the present day”."

Reason enough, in my view, for Vancouver's city council to go ahead and cancel Trutch.

May 20, 2021

In the history of modern art there are several key exhibitions that seem to upend the landscape. I am thinking of the 1910 exhibition at the Grafton Galleries in London, for example, which introduced the Post-Impressionists (Cézanne, Manet, Van Gogh, etc.) to the British public. Or the Armory Show in New York in 1913 which brought all the big-name European avant-garde painters...

May 2, 2021

The first time I met Tom Berger, who died this past week, age 88, was in 2005 when we sat together on a panel of "experts" convened by the Globe and Mail to determine the "top" British Columbians of all time. It is the only time my level of expertise has ever been equated with Justice Berger's.

Actually he was unaware that our paths had crossed, sort of, 35 years earlier. It was the provincial election of 1969, my first time as a voter and his first as leader of the...

March 30, 2021

Vancouver's Chinatown in 1906. (Courtesy Vancouver Public Library 5240)

The epidemic, and more recently the horrible murders in Atlanta, have focussed attention on the corrosive impact of anti-Asian prejudice and discrimination. Most Vancouverites are aware of the city's long history of discrimination against its Japanese, Chinese and South Asian residents. Unable to vote,...

February 5, 2021

While waiting for my next book, Becoming Vancouver: A New History, to be published this fall -- delayed by the COVID situation -- I thought I'd introduce the project by telling some "tales of the city."

The death of James Cross last month took me back to October 1970. Not to Quebec, where the main events took place, but to Vancouver, where tragedy turned to...

December 21, 2020