A name change for British Columbia?

Allan Fotheringham January 22 1996

A name change for British Columbia?

Allan Fotheringham January 22 1996

A name change for British Columbia?



These are restless times. Saint Lucien wants to take Quebec into the United Nations, along with Chad and Liechtenstein. Admiral Tobin is going to put the turbot on the Newfoundland flag. And now there is a move to drop the British from British Columbia.

The Left Coast, always the California of Canada, has grown increasingly obstreperous of late. It has provided the largest number of Reform MPs of any province in the House of Commons, those lads and lasses with muskets who think they are the next government under Parson Manning.

There was that eruption of emotion from the province when the loopy thinkers in the Chrétien office—regarding a constitutional veto—tried to toss B.C. into a mélange called Western Canada. And now there is a movement afoot—committees, petitions, letters-tothe-editor—demanding that the archaic “British” be dropped, leaving “Columbia” pristine and naked all by itself.

Well. This is a matter of great import. What would Ontarians think, point out the proponents, if it were called British Ontario? Wouldn’t go down too well in Toronto’s classier restaurants, 97 per cent of which live on pasta.

British Saskatchewan? Doesn’t quite ring true. British Prince Edward Island perhaps, where the pasta has not yet replaced the potato.

British Columbia, of course, is a bit of misnomer when the new name for Vancouver is Hongcouver. At the moment, one-quarter of the town’s population is from across the Pacific, with more to follow as the real Brits surrender Hong Kong to China in 1997.

British Columbia, as history students will recall, was a British colony long before it joined Canada. The very nature of the province, the warp and the woof, is a result of the English Fabian socialists who sailed around Cape Horn and settled there.

It’s why, to this day, B.C. has the most resilient and aggressive NDP remnant—along with the agrarian radicals of Saskatchewan—

in the land. Only in those two provinces is the present-day NDP, bastard son of the CCF, an option for power each election.

Only in B.C., as a result, is the union movement still so eminent that it is, for example, electing by coronation the angry young Glen Clark as the replacement to Nicey Mikey Harcourt as premier.

British California, of course, reeks with its British heritage. Victoria, the capital, honors a Queen who didn’t have offspring mixing with doxies or parading their bouts of horizontal delight with strangers before the television cameras.

No one can figure out why Vancouver, named after a British sea captain who discovered the place, is not on Vancouver Island, where Victoria is. Americans still confuse the province with British Guiana, which happens to be somewhat farther south.

Victoria itself, as we know, has done the most successful job of making a fortune out of

pretending it is really British. Yankee tourists, landing behind the Tweed Curtain, delight in an ersatz England, full of tea and crumpets and pet dogs, the Empress Hotel lobby looking as if the Queen Mum and the corgis are just down the hall.

It was the students at Victoria College, several years back, who tried to do something about this. Vic College was then just a twoyear training bra, its graduates having to cross the waters to the University of B.C. in Vancouver to get full degrees.

When the government decided to make it a full four-year university, the students had an idea. Why not, instead of all this British junk, honor the Spanish explorers who probably got there before Capt. Vancouver? The salubrious Gulf Islands offshore honor by name some of them—Galiano, Gabriola.

The Strait of Juan de Fuca separates Victoria from Washington state. Why not, said the kids, pay respect to the Spaniards by naming the new institution the University of Juan de Fuca?

Splendid idea, said the faculty. An inspired choice, decided the board of governors as it prepared to make the decision. Alas, the boastful kids let slip too early their real rationale: their planned T-shirts that would advertise “Juan de Fuca U.” Result? It is now the University of Victoria.

It was Bruce Hutchison, who achieved international recognition as a brilliant journalist while refusing all his life to leave his province, who invented the label “Lotusland,” derived from the Greek mythology 8 of the lotus-eaters.

£ The ancient Greeks ate 5 the fruit from the lotus tree, “ containing the property of making people forget their country and friends and to remain idle in the lotusland. Doesn’t that sound like B.C.? Today? In the Odyssey, a lotus-eater was one of the fabulous people who ate lotus fruit, which induced languor and forgetfulness of home. B.C. today? Of course.

British Columbia is its own ineffable self because it pulls the protective blanket of the Rocky Mountains over its head and has no need to look out. Alberta is as foreign as is New Brunswick.

It produced as its second premier one Amor de Cosmos, who was a California gold miner named William Smith, who once gave a speech in the legislature lasting 17 hours. It produced Wacky Bennett as well as Phlying Phil Gaglardi and Terry Fox.

It has never produced a native of the province who has been elected prime minister. It has no need to. It is unique. Nor has it a need to change its name.