Skip to content

Federal cairn in Oak Bay skips Indigenous history, wording up for review

Outdated language, factual errors, new knowledge can also trigger reviews of historic designations

A federal plaque atop Walbran Park, overlooking the shores of Oak Bay, seeks to explain the significance of the place.

The words embossed in bronze outline European exploration of the Strait of Juan de Fuca: “Although long known to First Nations people, the strait received its present name in 1787 when Charles Barkley identified it as the legendary transcontinental passage of Juan de Fuca, the Greek pilot who claimed to have ventured here in 1592.” It goes on to note that Spanish and British expeditions later proved this was not the Northwest Passage.

Just shy of five acres, the district-owned park overlooks Gonzales Bay to the east and McNeill Bay to the west. Though rugged, it’s popular with walkers and features viewpoints on both sides of Denison Road from the federal cairn on one side and the remains of a Second World War lookout on the other.

But the history represented is severely lacking, says resident Bruce Kilpatrick.

In September 2021, he submitted the federal plaque for a review by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.

The federal Framework for History and Commemoration outlines the board approach for review of existing national historic designations.

A review is generally triggered by outdated language or terminology, absence of a significant layer of history, factual errors, controversial beliefs and behaviours, or significant new knowledge.

READ ALSO: Federal officials rethink wording of markers at gravesites of past prime ministers

The absence of a significant layer of history, specifically its glancing reference to First Nations, stands out for Kilpatrick.

According to the framework, a review also looks at existing designations from an Indigenous perspective and can result in revisions to the reasons for designation as well as plaque text.

Kilpatrick was told that much like the nomination and designation process, a federal review involves consultation and engagement with the public and a range of experts, including local Indigenous communities. There are more than 2,100 existing designations of national historic significance, established over the span of a century, and reviews are subject to time and resources.

Kilpatrick looks at the 1925 municipal plaque in Walbran Park with a similar lens, and asked the district to have a look as well, in light of the federal review. Late last fall, Oak Bay initiated a review of its own historical monuments and plaques to ensure they include language that is respectful of Indigenous peoples and furthers the work of reconciliation.

Christine van Reeuwyk

About the Author: Christine van Reeuwyk

I'm dedicated to serving the community of Oak Bay as a senior journalist with the Greater Victoria news team.
Read more