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Panel of experts to field questions on renaming in St. Albert

The event will take place Nov. 1 at the Arden Theatre.
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The project is not about making a final decision on whether to rename streets or neighbourhoods in St. Albert, but to form a set of guidelines for when the city should consider renaming, the engagement consultant said. FILE/Photo

Residents will have the opportunity to learn more about different perspectives on renaming city infrastructure such as roads and streets at an upcoming event. 

The event — called “What’s in a Name? The Past, Present, and Future of Municipal Naming” — will feature five expert panellists, and take place at the Arden Theatre on Nov. 1 from 7 to 10 p.m. The event is free to attend, with a link to sign up included on the city’s Cultivate the Conversation website.

Panelists will first field questions from the project team. During intermission, the moderator will gather questions from the audience and pose them to panel members for the remainder of the event.  

The event is part of a larger public engagement project the City of St. Albert is undertaking as it looks to update its naming policy. Council approved some $325,000 for engagement, research, and educational material around a new policy as part of budget deliberations last year. 

“We have met with so many subject-matter experts who have really informed us about naming work across the country” Blaise Fontaine, project engagement specialist and communications lead, said. Fontaine is the director of engagement at ProACTIVE Planning and was contracted by the city the renaming engagement.

Now, the project team wants to have those experts share their knowledge with the public, and give an opportunity for the public to pose questions, she said. 

Panelists will include: Vino Vipulanantharajah, a Musée Héritage Museum archivist; Christina Hardie, a Métis historian working for the Arts and Heritage Foundation; Rachel DiSaia, a project manager who worked on renaming the university formerly known as Ryerson; Joe Becigneul, chair of Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools and participant in the renaming of Holy Family Catholic School (formerly known as Vital Grandin); and Dan Rose, former chair of the Edmonton Historical Board and historical preservationist. 

The project team ran six public-engagement sessions in September, four of which covered general information around renaming, and two centring on the neighbourhood of Grandin. 

Fontaine said the sessions were extremely well-attended.

“We’re looking at a very engaged city — residents that care a lot about how the city proceeds with this policy,” Fontaine said. “It’s really good to see.” 

Some of the work in the sessions centred around dispelling misinformation about whether renaming decisions — especially for the Grandin neighbourhood — have already been made. 

“Most people came to the sessions with the presumption that renaming was going to happen no matter what, and that’s not the case,” Fontaine said.

Instead, Fontaine and her team will use the information they receive through public engagement to help craft broader policies around when to rename in the city, and what the process should be around choosing names in the future. 

In addition to using public engagement to inform the new naming policy, Fontaine said the project team is also factoring in best practices for renaming used by municipalities across the country. 

In the end, the policy should incorporate these best practices, but “should also be unique and a reflection of the community in St. Albert,” Fontaine said. 

“That’s our end goal.”

Later in December, there will be two open houses where members of the public can preview sample policies and get a sense of the naming policy council will consider adopting. 

The open houses will take place on Dec. 6 and 7 at the St. Albert Kinsmen Club. The times are yet to be announced, but Fontaine said one will be in the evening and the other will be in the afternoon to allow as many people to attend as possible. 

Those looking to hear more about the events can see updates on the city’s cultivate the conversation website. 

Ultimately, Fontaine said renaming "isn’t always about removing names that may be considered dishonourable.”

“We also rename to honour people, and for practical reasons as well, and so there needs to be a metric and a process outlined in this policy for the city to be able to follow,” Fontaine said. 

She said she wants the residents of St. Albert to “keep an open mind about the possibilities of a naming policy.”

“So often we think of naming as being this act of commemorating people from our past,” Fontaine said. “What if we start to think of naming as a reflection of our future and our present, too?”