Explainer: The history of B.C.’s name

What could happen if people wanted to change the province’s name

The BC Flag outside of The Provincial Legislature Building. (Flickr/ The Province Of British Columbia)

The BC Flag outside of The Provincial Legislature Building. (Flickr/ The Province Of British Columbia)

The origin of the name British Columbia comes from the Columbia River. Queen Victoria reportedly named the province British Columbia in order to make sure people didn’t confuse the name with the South American country Columbia.

Many people have called for the province’s name to be changed due to its colonial past and the fact that the name comes from a river that is named after Christopher Columbus, a man who started the violent colonization of the Americas. The province’s name continues to glorify and memorialize a colonizer with a long history of genocide and racism. 

To properly move towards decolonization in the province and the whole country, the history of every provincial name needs to be educated and changed for the better. 

Quebec, Manitoba, Ontario and Saskatchewan have an Indigenous origin for their province’s name, while New Brunswick and Nova Scotia lean towards a European origin. 

Some have recommended the B.C.’s new name have an Indigenous origin, especially to the land. The name S’ólh Téméxw (soul tow-mock) has been suggested, and it means “our world” or “our land.” 

Saskatchewan, a province that began in 1905, was named in recognition of the river “Kisiskatchewanisipi,” which is a Cree name that translates to “swift-flowing river.”

Manitoba also comes from a Cree name, “Man-into-wahpaow,” which means “the narrows of the Great Spirit.”

While the names Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Quebec have Indigenous origins, the proper spelling and pronunciation have been altered.  

The reality is Ontario’s real name is “Kanadario,” and it derives from an Iroquois word. It means “sparkling water.” However, since the Canadian school system doesn’t give proper education on Indigenous history and the colonial past of the country, when some people hear the name Ontario, they might not know about its origins. 

If B.C. went forward with changing its name, it would likely be discussed in the provincial legislation, and then residents would probably vote on a new name. A referendum has been suggested as a way to get the province to vote on a name change.

Toronto is currently changing the name of Dundas street due to the street being named after a man who delayed Britain’s abolition of slavery and mistreated Indigenous peoples. 

While changing a street name in a city will be different than changing the name of a province, it is important to look at the proceedings of the Toronto council and how some of their procedures relate to the possible name changing of B.C. 

The new name for the street is expected to be decided by April 2022, and it will reportedly take until 2023 to have all the street updated. The Toronto city council will hear ideas from the public and eventually make a vote. 

If the B.C. provincial government decides to change B.C.’s name, the process might mirror some of the steps taken by Toronto’s city council, and a petition can be created to express the public’s view that the province needs a name change.

An MLA could propose the name change as a public bill, and it could go into the legislative assembly for readings and debates. Before this bill can be passed as law, it would need to go through three readings, given royal assent, and then made into proclamation. There is a chance for changes to be made to the bill between the second and third readings. 

Changing B.C.’s name is one of the steps some say the province can take in working towards decolonization, as well as properly educating its residents on the true history of the province. While the chances of the name change look slim at the moment, with enough public persuasion, the topic could reach the provincial government.