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Municipal naming policy will 'stand the test of time,' councillor says

St. Albert city council has approved the new municipal naming policy, which, as of Jan. 1, 2024, means there will be a formal process for renaming city roads, neighbourhoods, and more.
The Greater St. Albert Catholic School Board decided to rename Vital Grandin Elementary School in 2021. KEVIN MA/St. Albert Gazette

A new municipal naming policy that passed this week at council will change the way city locations are named in St. Albert and see commemorative names used on rare occasions.

Council approved the policy at its June 20 meeting, which means as of Jan. 1, 2024, there will be a formal process for renaming St. Albert’s roads and neighbourhoods.

New names for city assets will focus more on things like geographical or topographical features, historic events or diversity in the community.

Coun. Wes Brodhead said he thinks other communities may look to St. Albert as inspiration for creating their own naming policies. 

“I think, quite honestly, it will form the basis for other communities to do likewise and take a look at what we did here,” Brodhead said. “I think St. Albert is going to be well served by it (and) the policy itself, I believe, will stand the test of time.”

Coun. Natalie Joly put forward the idea to review the city's municipal naming policy in 2021 in the wake of national outcry and outrage after hundreds of unmarked graves of Indigenous children were discovered across the country at former residential school locations. 

The new criteria for renaming existing municipal assets includes names commemorating people known for discriminatory views or actions, or for committing or perpetuating acts of racism and violence. An example is Bishop Vital Grandin, the namesake of St. Albert's Grandin neighbourhood and multiple roads, who was an Oblate priest with a substantial role in creating the residential school system.

On June 20, council approved the new policy, with Coun. Shelley Biermanski and Coun. Sheena Hughes opposed.

Approval came after almost two full years of research and review of similar policies in other parts of Canada, many public engagement opportunities, and multiple revisions to a draft policy written by hired consultants.

The policy was last in front of council in draft form last month when the standing committee of the whole added definitions for the words "equity," "diversity," and "inclusion." A host of other amendments failed to get a majority vote. Prior to the meeting in May, the standing committee of the whole also made revisions to the policy in February.

As of next year, the process to have a municipal asset considered for renaming will require a resident or someone with “a substantial connection to St. Albert” to gather and demonstrate a “substantial level of community support,” and apply to the city.

What a "substantial level of community support" specifically entails has yet to be determined, but will be defined by Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Bill Fletcher prior to the policy taking effect.

Once an application is submitted, a naming committee of representatives from seven city departments, as well as the Arts and Heritage Foundation, will review the request and compare it to the naming removal criteria enshrined in the policy.

If the naming committee finds the renaming application is appropriate, the committee will recommend to council that the municipal asset should be renamed and will either provide a suggestion for a new name or take a name from the pre-approved Names Reserve List.

Only city council has the authority to remove a name and rename a municipal asset.

The policy says if a renaming application is denied by the committee, the name in question cannot be resubmitted for review for two years.

Besides creating a process for renaming city assets, the new policy also defines and lists criteria for what the city will need to consider when deciding on names for new assets as the city continues to develop.

The new naming criteria states that names should reference local geographical or topographical features; flora and fauna; traditional usage or ways of knowing for local Indigenous people; historical events; generic names that follow St. Albert's alphabetical neighbourhood system; or “historical, cultural, ethnic, language, or gender or other aspects of diversity of the community.”

As well, the policy says that moving forward the city should only use commemorative names on “rare occasions,” and these names must either be associated with an equity-deserving group underrepresented in St. Albert's current naming practices; represent someone who was dedicated to community service, promoted equality, worked to reduce discrimination, brought honour to St. Albert through their professional work, and more.

Coun. Mike Killick said he was proud to be a part of creating the policy.

“Not to be overly dramatic about this, but I think our naming policy will be one of the few of the really core pieces of legislation that this four-year term of council will be very proud of and it will be one of the biggest things that we accomplish in our four years,” Killick said.

“It was a long process, there was a lot of debate at council — we went through three drafts — but the final policy that we have now I think is really good and will reflect really well on what the core values of St. Albert are really all about.”

Jack Farrell

About the Author: Jack Farrell

Jack Farrell joined the St. Albert Gazette in May, 2022.
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