The names of two streets in Whistle Bend have been changed following a 6-1 vote on Jan. 31 by Whitehorse city council in favour of third reading of the bylaw for the name changes.
Coun. Kirk Cameron was the only member of council to vote against it.
The bylaw changed Gypsy Queen Lane and Peep Street to Scotia Lane and Omega Street after concerns were brought up over the terms gypsy and peep.
“Concern has since been raised that the term ‘gypsy’ can be considered an inappropriate and derogatory term for the Roma people,” it was stated in an earlier report to council.
“Concerns have also been raised that the word ‘peep’ is often associated with terms such as ‘peepshow’ and ‘peeping Tom,’ which has sexual connotations.”
As with all streets in Whistle Bend, the roads were named after riverboats of the north. Gypsy Queen was a sternwheeler that provided transport to the Klondike during the gold rush, while Peep was a steamship that operated in 1909 in British Columbia.
Cameron highlighted that history in his comments, noting initially his difficulty in deciding what direction he would vote.
“These were all names that had been given to steamships that connected to something that the people of the day felt were worthy,” he said.
“I don’t for a moment think that there was any sense that the SS Gypsy Queen or the SS Peep were about the kinds of things that could be connected to these particular names.”
He also pointed out that words can take on several different meanings.
For her part, Coun. Michelle Friesen, who brought forward the concerns over the street names, stressed the importance of inclusivity.
“We are proud to be an inclusive and welcoming city,” she said. “Names like this can make folks feel uncomfortable or unwelcome, and I believe that we should ensure that both residents and visitors to our city can embrace the names that we use to identify the places in our city, and so I’m looking forward to preventing discriminatory naming of future locations. I think we have an opportunity to exercise on a call to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which calls for better integration of Indigenous history into Canada’s heritage.”
Cameron responded that while he supports Friesen’s call for more Indigenous representation in future subdivisions, he also had concerns around “vilifying” the two original street names.
Others on council pointed out there is a list of riverboat names the city can use – including Scotia and Omega – in reflecting that history in Whistle Bend, while also working towards a more inclusive community with the renaming.
“Sometimes small changes make a big difference,” Coun. Mellisa Murray said.
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