Edmonton city council voted unanimously Monday to change the name of Grandin LRT Station and cover up a mural depicting the residential school system as soon as possible.
Mayor Don Iveson introduced the motion to remove the reference to Bishop Vital-Justin Grandin in the LRT station and on city signage as well as cover the controversial mural.
Grandin, who lived in St. Albert, was an advocate for the Indigenous residential school system and lobbied the federal government to invest in the practice of separating children from their families and removing them of their culture.
The decision to remove his name from city property follows the discovery of 215 children buried at a former Kamloops residential school site in May. Petitions started by Edmontonians last week had garnered more than 3,000 signatures as of Monday.
After Grandin’s namesake is removed, including audio station announcements on the LRT system, and the mural covered with orange, the city will consult with the Grandin working circle, made up of Indigenous and Francophone community leaders, on what to do with the mural. The working circle and city’s naming committee will be tasked with recommending a new moniker for the station.
Iveson said although it’s likely the city’s ongoing consultations would have resulted in the same decision eventually, the Kamloops discovery has created public pressure to act now.
“I’m very sad that it took this tragedy on this scale to move all of us to this action,” said Iveson prior to council’s vote.
The mural in Grandin Station was first created in 1989 to celebrate the historical contributions of Alberta’s Francophone community, particularly Bishop Grandin. But the mural, which shows a nun holding an Indigenous child away from their family, has long drawn criticism for its depiction of the residential school system. As a result of the concerns, the mural was added to in 2017 with two new panels as well as a piece by now city councillor Aaron Paquette depicting Indigenous history in Edmonton.
Iveson said that the city has been fielding concerns about the mural for years, particularly because it is in such a high-traffic public space, and believes the renaming and removal is the “respectful and healing thing to do.”
“People, particularly survivors and intergenerational survivors of residential schooling, have no choice but to be in its presence and behold it and people have reported for some time that is triggering and re-traumatizing for them,” said Iveson.
He added that it’s possible to preserve the mural in an appropriate place, like a museum, where people can be warned ahead of time and important context included. He said that kind of work doesn’t erase history, and echoed the words of Treaty Six Confederacy Grand Chief Vernon Watchmaker, who has said colonial practices of assimilation represent a long history of Indigenous culture being cancelled and denied.
The city’s naming committee is currently reviewing and revising the city’s policy to incorporate guidelines for renaming, with a report scheduled to face council in August.
More to come…