Daniel Francis

Reading the National Narrative

Cancelling Trutch

Jun 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.