Trutch Avenue in Chilliwack will be getting a new street name that doesn’t glorify a racist figure from B.C.’s colonial past.
City of Chilliwack will be removing street-name recognition for Joseph W. Trutch, who became the province’s first lieutenant-governor in 1871.
Trutch’s legacy was demeaning First Nations people, refusing to recognize their rights and title, and effectively displacing them from their traditional lands.
Chilliwack council voted at the June 15 meeting to rename Trutch Avenue with a name of Indigenous significance, after receiving a request from Squiala Chief David Jimmie, president of the Stólō Chiefs’ Council.
The staff report explained the move is in keeping with a “strategic goal” of council “to support truth and reconciliation through building relationships of mutual respect and understanding” with local First Nations.
“As part of this commitment, the City (of Chilliwack) currently has the opportunity to review and rename a street name.”
City of Vancouver and City of Victoria have debated similar requests to rename their own streets that carry the name Trutch.
Chief Jimmie’s request to Chilliwack council mentioned “the harm” associated with the Chilliwack street name Trutch, which is a small street of 16 properties, off Ashwell Road.
In a letter dated June 23, 1850, on the topic of Indians, from the Joseph Trutch Papers at the UBC Library, Trutch wrote to his wife, Charlotte: “I think they are the ugliest and laziest creatures I ever saw and we should as soon think of being afraid of our dogs as of them.”
Trutch became chief commissioner of lands and works in 1864, and helped smooth B.C.’s entry into confederation in 1871 with the promise of building the Canadian Pacific Railway.
In 1867, Trutch sent a letter to the Acting Colonial Secretary: “The Indians really have no right to the lands they claim, nor are they of any actual value or utility to them,” according to research conducted by Graham MacDonnell, of Fraser Valley Heritage Research Services.
That same year, according to MacDonnell’s research, Trutch “refused to recognize the legitimacy of the reserves” that had been established by former Lieutenant-Governor James Douglas, and had them re-surveyed, reducing their size by 91 per cent.
Several members of council said this week that given Trutch’s actions on the land question, they didn’t think he “deserved” the recognition of a street name.
Coun. Jason Lum described the effort as “an opportunity to educate ourselves” on why City of Chilliwack would go so far as to take the unusual step of renaming a street.
“I hope the residents of that street – and there’s only a few of them – understand the process we’re following and why,” said Coun. Bud Mercer during the council discussion. “I hope they embrace this initiative for what it is, which is doing exactly the right thing.”
City officials will be sending letters to residents affected by the street name change, and will be consulting with Chief Jimmie on some suggested names of significance to local Indigenous communities.
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