In the early 1900s, James Short was a credentialed lawyer and school principal in Calgary. To commemorate him, a park and parkade, which still stand tall in the heart of downtown, are named after the man.
But Short was also a vocal racist who consistently lobbied against the Canadian-Chinese people, attempting to block the creation of Chinatown, stating that Chinese residents would lower the property values of Calgary.
The irony that James Short Park and Parkade are located on the edge of Chinatown is not lost on city officials. Following an initial discussion about the park and parkade in 2020, councillors will move ahead with renaming them this fall.
“Members of the Chinese-Calgarian community did not feel that it was appropriate for a park and a parkade to be celebrating a man who fought [against] the existence of Chinatown,” says Josh Traptow, Heritage Calgary’s chief executive officer.
Issues around naming — or renaming — are exactly why Heritage Calgary applied for funding from the Council Innovation Fund in 2020 to create the Naming, Renaming, Commemoration, and Removal handbook — which is designed to help aid people in correctly naming their projects.
“I think in the long run, community groups and Calgarians will benefit from having this handbook as a resource for them, and the city will also benefit given that the city is a significant holder of assets that are named after individuals and the community,” says Traptow.
The handbook features an eight-step process designed to help people approach the naming of their projects correctly, focusing on purpose, decision-making, reconciliation and learning. The entire community in which the asset is located should also be involved, the handbook outlines.
“If you are looking at naming something after a member of the community, making sure that that community is engaged, making sure the community or geographical location want that name, that it has a connection to that area,” says Traptow.
Ultimately, Traptow believes there always needs to be a large emphasis on the community when considering the name of an asset.
“I think there needs to be a more thoughtful process when it comes to the naming of communities, that it is not just a marketing attempt or ploy and that it actually has a connection to our city.”
According to the Municipal Naming, Sponsorship and Naming Rights Policy, city assets should reflect either Calgary’s heritage or local geographic features, or notable Calgarians, former elected representatives, or someone who has provided a donation to the city.
Rob Lewis, the leader of business support with the City of Calgary, helps process the naming of city-owned assets through the Municipal Naming Program. The program was designed to help recognize influential members of the community by naming assets after them.
Lewis says the Municipal Naming Program receives applications from individuals, organizations, historical societies and community associations.
“Generally we get this external applicant who emails a request to name an asset… once a request comes in it gets vetted by my team,” says Lewis. “When we get these requests we identify which steward is responsible for that asset.”
As long as the proposed name follows all of the criteria and the community supports it, Lewis says it’s usually first come, first served and notes it’s incredibly rare for there to be multiple naming requests for the same asset.
Lewis says council is typically responsible for all of the naming, and ultimately makes the final decision.
Once an asset is named, it typically won’t get a new one unless council sees an exceptional circumstance.
Usually these circumstances mean a certain number of members from a community come forward with a request for a name change. Lewis says the two requests the Municipal Naming Program have received in recent years were for James Short Park and Parkade, as well as Langevin Bridge.
Hector-Louis Langevin, a former secretary of state in the late 1800s, is considered an original architect of the residential schools system. The bridge was renamed Reconciliation Bridge in 2017. The Bridgeland school that bore his name followed four years later — it is now Riverside School.
“Those names don’t align with community values and so we went through a process to look at other options for renaming,” says Lewis. “We’re engaged in a process right now to examine how to outline for citizens step-by-step on how to approach the city about changing [names].”