A group of University of Victoria students have launched a petition to rename a Fairfield street as an act of decolonization.
The online campaign asks the city to remove Joseph Trutch’s name from Trutch Street, a road spanning from Richardson Street to Fairfield Road.
Joseph Trutch created oppressive policies that displaced Indigenous peoples across B.C. Historians have documented Trutch’s active anti-Indigenous and racist attitude as well as his efforts to remove Indigenous peoples’ land rights and autonomy.
The campaign, launched by University of Victoria students Jade Baird, Rachel Dufort, Sicily Fox, and Ashley Yaredic for a class on decolonization, says the street signs honour that negative history.
“They represent a colonial history and there was a lot of genocide in that history,” Baird says. “I would hope Victoria is the kind of city that doesn’t want to put racism on a pedestal.”
On its website, the Victoria Heritage Foundation says Trutch was born in 1826 in England. He worked as a civil engineer and came to Victoria with his wife in 1859, the foundation says, at which time they had their home built on what would become Trutch Street. Trutch was elected to the Vancouver Island Legislative Assembly in 1862 and was appointed surveyor-general for B.C. in 1864.
But in that role Trutch helped to systematically shrink Indigenous reserves.
“Trutch was a racist that put his racism into policy which forever shaped the Indigenous Peoples rights to their land in British Columbia and beyond,” says the students’ petition.
During a 2003 land claims workshop at the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, Bruce Granville Miller, a professor at the University of B.C., called Trutch repressive, and lamented the use of his name for a separate street in Vancouver. Trutch reduced reserve land by 92 per cent during his work as commissioner of lands, Miller said.
“He believed the Indians have really no rights to the lands they claim, nor are they of any actual value or utility to them.”
Removing the namesake street is a small step, Baird says, but an important one.
“There’s always so many concerns about erasing history but we’re not taking him out of the history books,” Baird says. “We have a colonial history and it’s always going to be part of our history but we don’t need to put them on a pedestal.”
The campaign had garnered more than 300 signatures as of March 16. The group hopes to present the petition to Victoria council on March 25.
In 2017 the University of Victoria renamed a residence building that bore the name of Joseph Trutch after student Lisa Schnitzler wrote a research paper on him and compared it with UVic’s policies.
At that time the university said in a release that Trutch’s “negative approach to the land rights of First Nations people and disregard for their concerns” conflict with its “mission, vision and values.”