Community meets to mull name change for Winnipeg neighbourhood, discuss Wolseley’s colonial history

A Métis organization held a rendezvous on Sunday to further their campaign aimed at exposing the colonial history of a central Winnipeg neighbourhood name.

All summer, the Red River Echoes has engaged in an education campaign around Wolseley highlighting what has been called the “reign of terror” against the Métis that followed Col. Garnet Wolseley’s 1870 campaign.

A rendezvous is a way Métis people have traditionally gathered together and discussed important topics over food and music, and the concept felt appropriate for this occasion, says Breanne Lavallee-Heckert with the Echoes.

“It’s part of reclaiming our lands and part of that is changing names, but it’s also taking up space and being here and building relationship with community,” she said.

The Echoes took the time to help educate the community about Col. Wolseley and build momentum to change the name.

Breanne Lavallee-Heckert and Claire Johnston are involved with the Red River Echoes and hosted an event in Vimy Ridge Park to help equip people to advocate for the removal of all references to Col. Garnet Wolseley in city schools and neighbourhoods. (Radio-Canada)

Dispatched by Ottawa, Wolseley led more than 1,000 troops to violently suppress Louis Riel’s Red River Resistance.

Wolseley’s 1870 campaign led to the harassment and displacement of Métis people. A petition last year calling for the renaming of locations named after Wolseley described him as “the military leader of Prime Minister John A. Macdonald’s genocidal scheme of white ‘armed emigration’ to the North West.”

The Métis people who didn’t flee faced brutal consequences from Wolseley’s troops. 

Claire Johnston, a spokesperson with the Echoes, says many people who live in the area had no idea what the name meant. 

“Wolseley residents have been shocked to find out who Wolseley was, and that he committed genocide and the reign of terror against Métis  people on these lands,” she said.

“While there is a place for this history to be taught, it’s not for commemoration on street names.”

People in Wolseley are reflecting on the neighbourhood name following an educational campaign led by the Métis group Red River Echoes. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

Discussions about landmarks, statues and other things commemorating violent historical figures have cropped up recently all over Manitoba.

The rural municipality of Gimli pulled the word ‘colonization’ from the names of four streets to honour reconciliation.

In Winnipeg, the city is mulling changing the name of Bishop Grandin Boulevard, which is named after Bishop Vital-Justin Grandin who lobbied the federal government to fund the construction of the residential schools, which saw children torn from their families and stripped of their identities in what has been decried as genocide.

Johnston says the time is right to lobby the community to change this name as well.

“As Métis people living on our traditional territories, we don’t believe that name should stand any longer,” Breanne Lavallee-Heckert added.

Granola and/or genocidal history?

Around 50 people were in attendance at the rendezvous Sunday. Residents of the area say they’re starting to question what they once associated with the name of the neighbourhood.

Conor Smith moved to Winnipeg from southwestern Ontario a few years ago, and came to associate Wolseley with greenery and open-minded people.

He recently moved to the neighbourhood and is starting to broaden that idea, though.

“Learning more about the history of [Col.] Wolseley and what he’s done to remove the Indigenous inhabitants of this land, there’s no way someone like that should be honoured with having their name over this neighbourhood.”

Patti Wavey says she doesn’t think of the history of Col. Wolseley and his reign of terror when she hears his name. 

“When I think of Wolseley I don’t think of the past history, I think of it as a place from the 60s and its open-minded,” she said.

When it comes to removing his name, though, she says she can go either way.

“I see where people are coming from,” Wavey said.

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