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New name for Edmonton’s Oliver neighbourhood approved by city council

Edmonton city council has approved a new name for the Oliver neighbourhood.

The community, just west of downtown, will now be known as Wîhkwêntôwin ᐄᐧᐦᑫᐧᐣᑑᐃᐧᐣ, pronounced Wee-kwen-toe-win.

The name comes from the Cree language, meaning circle of friends.

The approval comes nearly four years after the Oliver Community League (OCL) began the process of renaming, part of a reconciliation journey with Indigenous Peoples.

The city said the suggestion to rename the neighbourhood came through the 2020 Uncover Oliver campaign, which shed light on the history of Frank Oliver, for whom the neighbourhood was named in the 1930s.

Oliver was a journalist who started Edmonton’s first paper, the Edmonton Bulletin. The OCL described him as an active perpetrator in chasing the Papaschase and Michel bands from their land. He also used the Edmonton Bulletin to perpetuate negative stereotypes around Indigenous Peoples, according to the community league.

The City of Edmonton said the OCL submitted the new name to the city’s naming committee, which approved it in August 2023, with the name receiving final approval by city council on Wednesday.

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“Wîhkwêntôwin showcases our neighbourhood, making a statement of who we want to be while acknowledging the harms of the past. This is a new chapter for our wonderful community, bringing on a name that honours the land where we live, work, eat and play,” said Imran Ahmad, president of the Oliver Community League.

In 2022, the community league created a Renaming Circle involving Indigenous community members, including elders and leaders, as well as representatives from Black and 2SLGBTQQIA+ communities — many of them impacted by Oliver’s legacy. Broader community engagement followed, with the OCL receiving overwhelming support from residents to rename the neighbourhood. The Renaming Circle completed its process and proposed a final name last spring.

“Members of the community took this renaming initiative on themselves, working with area residents and guided by Indigenous Elders,” Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said.  “I’m proud of Edmontonians who take the time to learn about our history, the good and the bad, and take steps to try to right past wrongs.”

“We are taking a significant step towards reconciliation and unity in our city. We want to enrich our collective history with a sense of togetherness,” said Erin McDonald, chair of the naming committee.

The City of Edmonton said it will begin making all of the changes to websites, maps and signage on existing facilities. Related bylaws and other City of Edmonton documents will also be updated to reflect the new name.

The official change is effective Jan. 1, 2025, but the city said some changes may not be completed until the end of 2025. The city estimates the total cost for the changes to be approximately $680,000.

with files from Caley Gibson

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