The park down the block from my office is called Bakerview. I was sitting under a tree and researching the namesake when I realised it’s named Bakerview because you can see Mount Baker. At least I’m assuming you could in 1933 when they named the park. There are too many houses in the way now.
Mount Baker is across the border in Washington, but it’s a constant in the skyline. In the suburbs south of Vancouver, if you see a snub-nosed, white-capped mountain in the distance, it’s probably Baker. It’s so dominant in our landscape that many businesses, on both sides of the border, put Baker in their names and the silhouette in their logos. It’s on the Washington state license plate. But before this week, I had no idea who Baker was.
“The places Canada has made into parks are filled with our stories–every mountain, every valley has a name and a history for Indigenous peoples.”
Robert Jago writes about Canada’s parks as “colonial crime scenes”. It’s easy for those of us who are colonisers to protest condos and malls and casinos built on unceded Indigenous land. Those developments are very obviously evil. We can’t be as bad as them, right? Because the parks mean more to us. We believe they matter because they preserve Canada’s wilderness. We believe we’re saving Canada. Instead, we–and Parks Canada, which is offering free admission this year as a reminder that you normally have to pay for access to the land–are erasing Indigenous stories and names.
We are living on stolen land.
Mount Baker has an Indigenous name I had never heard before I looked it up: Koma Kulshan. It has as many names as there are Indigenous languages in the area. Baker, on the other hand, was the name of a lieutenant on George Vancouver’s ship. He gets his name on the most prominent mountain in the skyline because he “saw it on April 30, 1792.” He was standing on a ship and pointed at a mountain, and now his name is on the park where I spend a lot of my summer afternoons.
Emily Carr (I know, I’m sorry, but she’s my project for the year) has many sketches and paintings marked with the initials “Q.C.I.” Those three letters stand for Queen Charlotte Islands, the northern archipelago off the coast of BC that we now call Haida Gwaii. Carr visited and painted the islands in the 1920s and 30s, but when I was in school in the 1990s, we still called them the Queen Charlotte Islands. The official name change happened only 7 years ago.
Nunavut, our third Canadian territory, didn’t exist when I was drawing maps and learning Canadian geography. That happened in 1999.
Down the hill from where I live now, beside the commercial waterfront of White Rock Beach, there used to be a park. In 1996, the Semiahmoo First Nation took the land back from the city of Surrey.
Reconciliation will not be as simple as renaming Canada’s parks. But this is something I can do right now. July 1st marks 150 years of Confederation and hundreds more years of European settlement in Canada. It’s the start of summer and the next 150 years of Canada. If we’re going to survive as a country, we have to change. I’ll be spending more time outside among the trees and paying more attention to the names that don’t belong.
I’ve claimed this land as my own too long. I need to learn more about the people who were here first. I want to hear their word for ‘mountain’.