Landscape view of Powell River, BC from a seaplane over the water.

Photo Credit: Hameltion, Wikimedia Commons

Debate Rages in Powell River Over Name Change

Some are resistant to the change, while others see it as a necessary step toward reconciliation

For some, a name change is a necessary step toward reconciliation, while others are fiercely opposed.

The debate is on in Powell River on whether to change the city’s name. This Sunshine Coast community was named after Israel Wood Powell, a 19th-century BC doctor and bureaucrat with a thorny history with local First Nations.

Residents are split between those who want his name removed and those who favour preserving the city’s name.

Maynard Harry is the former chief councillor of the Tla’amin Nation (formerly the Sliammon First Nation). His mother is a residential school survivor. Powell’s ideas informed many policies affecting local First Nations, including supporting residential schools and banning the potlatch.

Maynard Harry says a name change is long overdue.

“Powell is a monster to me,” Harry told VanIsle.News. For Maynard Harry, removing this man’s name from the map is a symbolic but necessary step toward reconciliation.

But getting other citizens to agree has proven difficult. Former Powell River mayor Stewart Alsgard favours the name change, but discussions have sometimes gotten heated.

“Some people say, ‘They were born in Powell River, and they’re going to die in Powell River,'” he admits.

While discussions over the city’s name continue, other regional entities have made their own changes.

In 2017, the Powell River Regional District changed its name to Qathet Regional District. Board members opted for a name change because of frequent confusion among the public between the city and regional districts.

The Qathet International Film Festival used to be the Powell River International Film Festival. Gary Shilling, executive director of the film society, says he agrees with the Tla’amin that it’s time for the city to ditch Powell.

Will residents come together over this divisive issue? Only time will tell.