A lane by any other name

City leav­ing colo­nial era to hon­our lives of marginal­ized com­mu­ni­ties and peo­ple of colour

StarMetro Vancouver - - FRONT PAGE - WANYEE LI

Shirley Jepson-young stands in the West End lane that is now named af­ter her late son, Dr. Peter Jepson-young, who was di­ag­nosed with HIV in 1986 and con­tin­ued to ad­vo­cate for the com­mu­nity un­til his death in 1992.

Two lanes in the West End will now bear the names of beloved neigh­bour­hood fig­ures, in­clud­ing Dr. Peter Jep­sony­oung, who was di­ag­nosed with HIV in 1986 and con­tin­ued to ad­vo­cate for the com­mu­nity un­til his death in 1992.

Van­cou­ver still has a long way to go in or­der to have street names re­flect the mul­ti­cul­tural his­tory of the city, and that of marginal­ized com­mu­ni­ties, said one city plan­ning ex­pert.

On Tues­day, Van­cou­ver city coun­cil unan­i­mously ap­proved a mo­tion to name two West End lanes af­ter prom­i­nent lo­cals: Dr. Peter Jep­sony­oung and Vi­vian Jung.

“It’s just won­der­ful. Peter would be thrilled,” said his mother, Shirley Jepson-young, who still helps out at the Dr. Peter Cen­tre, lo­cated be­hind the lane that bears his name, at Thur­low and Co­mox St.

“He was a young man who just loved be­ing a doc­tor. He lost his vi­sion af­ter be­ing di­ag­nosed with AIDS but that did not stop him from help­ing oth­ers,” she said.

The Dr. Peter Cen­tre was cre­ated in 1997 and to­day pro­vides hous­ing and care for hun­dreds of peo­ple liv­ing with HIV/AIDS.

Re­nam­ing the lanes is part of an ini­tia­tive by the city of Van­cou­ver to hon­our the lives and sto­ries of city res­i­dents, in­clud­ing peo­ple of colour and from marginal­ized com­mu­ni­ties. In con­trast, many of the city’s most prom­i­nent streets are named af­ter white An­glosaxon men from the colo­nial era. Ex­perts ac­knowl­edge the city has a long way to go if it wants to rep­re­sent its di­verse his­tory.

Jung was the first Chi­nese-Cana­dian teacher hired by the Van­cou­ver School Board. She also broke the city’s seg­re­ga­tion pol­icy for pools by swim­ming in a West End pool at the same time as white peo­ple. That’s why it’s so fit­ting that the lane will now bear her name, said John Atkin, chair of Van­cou­ver’s civic as­set nam­ing com­mit­tee.

“The lane is quite re­lated to both her con­nec­tion to the pool and a sig­nif­i­cant change in civic pol­icy, but also to her fam­ily, who lived nearby,” the his­to­rian said.

Diver­sity is an im­por­tant part of his com­mit­tee’s man­date in nam­ing new city streets and build­ings, he added. But some crit­ics say a big­ger shift needs to hap­pen.

Van­cou­ver street names as a whole should re­flect the city’s res­i­dents, both past and present, said Andy Yan, di­rec­tor of Si­mon Fraser Univer­sity’s City pro­gram.

“It shows you the work we have ahead of us,” he said.

Less than 2 per cent of Van­cou­ver’s streets and civic as­sets are named af­ter women, Atkin con­firmed, and even fewer are named af­ter peo­ple from mi­nor­ity groups. There are a hand­ful: a street in Van­cou­ver’s new River Dis­trict neigh­bour­hood called Jack Up­pal St. was the first in the city to be named af­ter a South Asian per­son. City coun­cil ap­proved that mo­tion in 2016. That same year, Shanghai Al­ley in Van­cou­ver’s Chi­na­town was given the moniker Lil­ian To Way.

Yan says dia­logue about re­nam­ing streets is long over­due. He pointed out many of Van­cou­ver’s streets are not named af­ter peo­ple, but are in­stead num­bered av­enues or named af­ter trees. He sug­gests they could be re­named.

Atkin ac­knowl­edged it’s not un­heard of for gov­ern­ments to re­name en­tire cities or neigh­bour­hoods. But those kinds of shifts usu­ally hap­pen af­ter a revo­lu­tion or so­ci­etal shift, he said. Rus­sia and much of East-

ern Europe did ex­actly that af­ter the fall of com­mu­nism, he said.

Re­nam­ing streets can bring up lo­gis­ti­cal headaches for politicians who at­tempt it.

“If you re­name some­thing you’d have to re­name not just the phys­i­cal street but you’d have to change B.C. As­sess­ment data­bases, map data­bases, city data­bases — there’s a cost to that,” Atkin said.

That’s why re­nam­ing city as­sets is not within his com­mit­tee’s man­date, Atkins said.

And even when politicians do sug­gest a new name for an ex­ist­ing build­ing or street, it may back­fire.

Six months ago, a Van­cou­ver School Board trustee sug­gested re­nam­ing the one-yearold Crosstown El­e­men­tary School af­ter Won Alexan­der Cumyow, the first Chi­nese-cana­dian per­son born in B.C. There was sig­nif­i­cant op­po­si­tion to the idea: School board trustees voted down the mo­tion af­ter dozens of par­ents signed a pe­ti­tion calling for them to do so.

Atkin sug­gested a gen­tler op­tion: adding de­scrip­tors to street name signs. For new streets, such as Jung Lane, the de­scrip­tor would hon­our their con­tri­bu­tions. For ex­ist­ing streets with names such as Trutch or Dun­smuir, the de­scrip­tors would make it clear that these peo­ple were re­spon­si­ble for ab­hor­rent poli­cies, he said.

Joseph Trutch was “a colo­nial of­fi­cial who was re­spon­si­ble for se­verely reducing the reser­va­tions for Indige­nous peo­ple,” Atkins said.

“He did things that no­body would be proud of.”

For now, the city has only ap­proved de­scrip­tors for new streets. The Jung Lane sign will read “bar­rier-break­ing teacher” and Jepson-young sign will read “AIDS ac­tivist, ed­u­ca­tor.”

Ul­ti­mately, Van­cou­ver is a city of new­com­ers, Yan stressed, and from a city-build­ing perspective, street names are one way to shape the story a city wants to tell the world.

“How we name our streets is a state­ment of who we are and who we were and who we want to be.”


Shirley Jepson-young stands in the West End lane that will be named af­ter her late son, AIDS ac­tivist Dr. Peter Jepson-young.



Bob and Shirley Jepson-young hold a pho­to­graph of their late son, Dr. Peter Jepson-young, at their North Van­cou­ver home on Wed­nes­day.

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