'Taking back the space': Canadians re-examining symbols of colonialism across the country

Symbols of colonialism surround Canadians in many forms, including street and school names, and many people are looking to take back those spaces. For a community in Edmonton, that process is starting at Oliver Park – named after a man with a dark legacy.

As the country re-examines its identity, Brent Oliver is doing the same. For him, Canadian history is family history.

Brent Oliver is a descendant of Frank Oliver – an early 20th-century journalist from Edmonton and Alberta's first member of parliament.

"He was not the hero I was brought up to think that he was," Brent told CTV News.

Businesses, a park, even a neighbourhood has been named after the historic figure.

"Frank Oliver’s name is quite literally everywhere in Edmonton," said Robyn Paches, the president of the Oliver Community League.

But, missing from the signs is the harm Frank Oliver caused, including pushing First Nations like Papaschase off their lands, and lobbying to keep African Americans out of Canada.

Hunter Cardinal is an Indigenous actor and consultant. He and Brent grew up hearing different versions of the same man. Now they have a common goal – taking part in consultations to rename Oliver Park.

"Canada is a community of communities coming to terms with who we are," Cardinal said.

Across Canada, public institutions are trying to come to terms with some hard truths. Symbols of Canada's colonial past have been toppled across the country – Queen Victoria in Winnipeg, Sir John A. Macdonald in Charlottetown, and residential school architect Egerton Ryerson in Toronto.

First, Ryerson's statue came down, and his name will soon follow. Ryerson University will soon call itself something else. The change is being led by Métis student Sam Howden.

"We don't need to celebrate these folks anymore," Howden said. "We're not erasing history. We're creating an alternative to that by taking back the space."

For these people, Canada's first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is about taking an unflinching look at colonialism and its lasting impact.

"It is to understand how something like that came to be, so that we can be empowered to make different decisions and ensure that that doesn’t happen," Cardinal said.

For them, the path to understanding the 'why' starts with questioning 'what' and 'who' we honour as Canadians. 

If you are a former residential school student in distress, or have been affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419

Additional mental-health support and resources for Indigenous people are available here.