University of Victoria renames building bearing name of alleged racist politician

University of Victoria student Lisa Schnitzler said Joseph Trutch made racist remarks about Indigenous people and denied them land.

The student who researched a former provincial politician applauds the decision to remove his name from a university building.

“I was very excited to see them make the change so quickly,” said Lisa Schnitzler in an interview, after the University of Victoria (UVic) announced its decision to rename a residence building that once bore the name of Sir Joseph Trutch.

A trained engineer, British-born Trutch belonged to a trio of provincial politicians, who negotiated the entry of British Columbia into Canada in 1871. Trutch also served as B.C.’s first lieutenant-governor following Confederation.

The university announced its decision last week, citing Trutch’s record as chief commissioner of lands and works in pre-Confederation British Columbia.

“Trutch’s negative approach to the land rights of First Nations people and disregard for their concerns conflict with UVic’s mission, vision and values,” said Carmen Charette, vice-president of external relations, in a release.

UVic’s decision comes after Schnitzler, who lived in the building, had submitted a research paper into the past of Trutch, then held it up with UVic’s policies.

“He has been quoted as describing indigenous people as savages, calling them dogs,” said Schnitzler, who majors in English and minors in Indigenous Studies.

Trutch also denied the existence of the aboriginal title in setting the stage for legislation that severely limited the ability of indigenous people to acquire land.

While Schnitzler acknowledged the attitudes and actions of Trutch were not unique for the period, the presence of his name on a university building runs counter to the politics of the university, she said.

The university also reviewed the names of other UVic buildings, but did not identify other cases.

The building will bear the temporary name of Lansdowne Residence #1 until a future process produces another name.

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.”

The naming committee also considered a number of other factors. Current or future students living in the residence bearing the name “may feel uncomfortable or conflicted to be residing in or associated with the building as named.”

The university stresses that this renaming does not “attempt to erase history or diminish the accomplishments of historical figures” including Trutch and his role in bringing British Columbia into Confederation. “Rather, the intent is to ensure that the UVic campus environment is aligned with our values,” it read.

Schnitzler said she sees the re-naming as part of a larger process to confront Canada’s colonial past as it gets ready to celebrate the 150th anniversary of its modern-day founding.

“Regardless of whether the name changed or not, I wanted to start a conversation about Canada’s colonial past,” she said.

Not everybody wants to have this conversation though as conservative thinkers and politicians have criticized voices like Schnitzler as politically correct snowflakes.

Schnitzler rejects these charges. While Schnitzler acknowledges gaps in her historical knowledge, Trutch’s record speaks for itself. “I do know that racism, colonialism, all of the things that Trutsch stood for is no longer OK in this Canada,” she said.

She also challenges the criticism that efforts to rename buildings and geographical features represent attempts to deconstruct history.

“In my opinion, by removing his name, we are not constructing history,” she said. “We are confronting it.”

By coming more consciously aware of Canada’s history and actively identifying figures like Trutch, indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians can play their personal part in reconciliation.

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Lisa Schnitzler led efforts to rename a University of Victoria building named after Joseph Trutch, B.C.’s first lieutenant-governor. Trutch had made derogatory comments about indigenous people and limited their access to land in a previous capacity.

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