Editorial: Madeira Park is more than just a pretty name

The request by shíshálh Nation for the province to change the official names of Wilson Creek, Madeira Park and Saltery Bay to the original she shashishalhem names met with some early and predictable resistance from up Pender Harbour way. Judging by a quick review of Facebook comments, salalus won’t be an easy sell.

It’s not because of the pronunciation. Salalus – pronounced SAU-LAU-lōs – is a cakewalk compared to ts’ukw’um, the name for Wilson Creek, which has a “throat-catch” in each of the first two syllables. Not only that, the second syllable is “produced farther back in the mouth.” The same goes for the “k” in skelhp, the name for Saltery Bay. Expect average English speakers to either cough or quack. Salalus is also the only one written completely in standard script, making it keyboard friendly.

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Another advantage with salalus is that it has a meaning. Whereas the origins of the other two are unknown, salalus refers to the entrance to the channel, fishing sites and village situated around Sechelt Band Land 20.

So why the beef with that particular name change? There are several reasons, but let’s start with the significance of the current names. A cursory search tells us that Wilson Creek was named after James Wilson, a blacksmith who worked in the Burns and Jackson logging camp in the 1890s. Saltery Bay was named for a Japanese salmon saltery and packing plant that operated on Jervis Inlet in the early 1900s. We could be mistaken about Mr. Wilson’s legacy, but there doesn’t appear to have been any lasting importance attached to either of these names, other than familiarity and continuity. (Originality, not so much: B.C. has 14 creeks named Wilson, not including East Wilson Creek, Jack Wilson Creek and Jimmy Wilson Creek.)

Madeira Park is a whole different kettle of fish. After living for 30 years at Brockton Point in Stanley Park, pioneer Joe Gonsalves bought the land in 1904 and named it in honour of his birthplace, the Portuguese islands off the coast of Africa. As Madeira Park, it became the cradle of today’s community. Joe’s wife was Susan Harris, described as “North Vancouver Salish” and said to be an aunt of Chief Dan George. Joe and Susan had eight children, according to Family Search. They married into the Dames, Myers, Duncan, Leary, Mcdonald and Victor families. Many of their descendants still live there, or in the general area, and so do other pioneer families of mixed European and Indigenous ancestry. There are also Aboriginal residents whose accounts of the First Nation history sometimes conflict with the official SIB version. It will be interesting to see where those families stand on the name change.

Bottom line: it would be simplistic to frame this as a settler versus Indigenous thing, or to dismiss the historical and cultural significance of the name Madeira Park.

Other reasons for resistance?

Precedent. If Madeira Park is replaced with salalus, will Pender Harbour be next? After all, kalpilin was once the shíshálh gathering place, the heartland of the nation.

Consequences. Are all these name changes intended to strengthen eventual land claims that could work to the detriment of fee simple title holders?

Rights. Shouldn’t it be up to the people who live in a community to decide if they want to change its name?

Finally, suspicion. Is the province’s assurance that it’s only seeking feedback on the proposed changes to be taken seriously?

That’s the big question. Will Madeira Park’s living heritage be respected?

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