Randy Boswell highlights the opportunity to find deserving figures "other than Victorian-era politicians, government functionaries and members of the British mobility" to name our landmarks after. Randy had been one of the first to propose, in a 2020 Ottawa Citizen column, to rename Ottawa's Prince of Wales Bridge in honour of Chief William Commanda.
Randy, a past member of the HSO Board of Directors, draws attention to the way "the naming of streets, buildings and other places has sometimes memorialized slave owners and other unworthy figures from the past" and suggests replacing implied tributes to "historical figures (Henry Goulbourn, for example) with deeply problematic past and little or no connection to our country".
In other cases, Randy advocates a delicate balance, with figures such as Sir John A. Macdonald, to "find ways to preserve pride in the achievements of Canada's founding prime minister without ignoring his role in shaping the Residential Schools system and other racism-laced policies targeting Indigenous and Chinese people."
(At the start of his presentation, Randy acknowledges that there exist a wide range of views on this topic and invited audience members to join the conversation during the Q&A session following his talk.)
Since the HSO's founding almost 124 years ago with our mission to “increase public knowledge of the history of Ottawa” and “to preserve the history of the peoples of Bytown and Ottawa”, we have frequently been guilty of telling Ottawa's stories from a very narrow cultural perspective.
We can't "erase" the past in terms of erasing what has already been written. But we need now to expand upon what has been written -- and update the record of our past with the important perspectives that thus far have been glaringly missed from our history books.
We need to understand, acknowledge and come to terms with our past -- as historical society, as a city, and as a nation.
Randy, a journalist and Carleton University professor, notes that we should be at liberty to override some of the naming choices made by our Victorian-era forebearers that date back to a very different colonization era.
Randy's presentation recognized the difficult task ahead for Ottawa’s politicians, city planners and community groups (including HSO) in setting new, inclusive standards on how to honour the past, into the future.