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Thursday, May 7, 2009

Empire Days

Nanaimo boasts the oldest annual continuous community celebrations of Empire, 143 years, and, other than Cumberland which will celebrate their 111th celebration, is the only city still lauding the subjugation of conquered nations by the former British Empire. Interestingly Britain stopped calling the Victoria days celebrations Empire days in 1958 and even the school system no longer places focus on the former empire. Those communities in the commonwealth that do simply celebrate a holiday celebrate Victoria Day in remembrance of Queen Victoria’s birthday.

For the past 6 years a number of people and organizations have been working to take the Empire out of Empire days and make it more culturally respectful and appropriate, Nanaimo Heritage Days for example. On April 20th council passed a proclamation that May 11th - 18th be designated Empire Days week, I have since found out that council actually has no choice but to ratify proclamations submitted to them. This is all a result of the Community Charter, initiated by the provincial government, that came into being a few years ago and has in many cases given municipalities no options when dealing with certain items that are in the purview of said municipalities.

Also on the 20th Council Agenda was a letter from the Multi-Cultural Society requesting council change the name of Empire Days to Nanaimo Heritage Days. As is typical council simply made a motion to accept correspondence, passed the motion, and did nothing with it. At question period I asked council if they had plans to deal with the letter and after some verbal diarrhea, on both our parts, Councillor Unger stated that if I was to submit another letter to council he would make a motion towards effecting change. Below is my letter to council followed by the original from the Multi Cultural Society.

This was done and cc’d to both the Popular Participation Movement, who for the last 4 years have been trying to affect change, as well as the Multi Cultural Society. The Popular Participation Movement, for a couple years, infiltrated the parade as "Slaves of the Empire' and last year started a counter event, United Against Empire: Rally for Peace Justice & Equality.

There has been more publicity this year than any other though the Multi Cultural Society has born the brunt of some borderline racist calls. The other day when I checked my answering machine the following anonymous message was there. "Are you the activist that thinks we should abandon our heritage and drop Empire Days? Why don't you get a grip on life, get your act together and get a fucking job." The call was amusing from my perspective, I get the odd negative call regarding mys activism, and in case the caller ever sees this I have a F'ing job. I really value open debate and hope that we don't see too much of the hate based. After all it is one of those aspects of empire that has given us cause to seek change in the first place.

Any who; I have attached my letter to council; a letter I wrote to the editor, published in both papers, is included in the links to all of the newspaper media coverage for your perusal. Check it out, especially the comments following some of the D/N stories, you may find many of the comments amusing and perhaps agree with some of those speaking against our activism on this subject. Where will it go from here, I don't know but suffice it to say that if there is no change we will be back at it next year.

Hope to see a few posts to this, positive & negative, and I will publish them all.


May 5, 2009

Nanaimo Mayor and Council
455 Wallace Street,
Nanaimo, B.C.
V9R 5J6

Dear Mayor Ruttan and Honourable Councillors,

I am writing to you to discuss the possibility of a new way of celebrating Nanaimo’s history more inclusively. The following is about changing the focus of Nanaimo’s celebration of ‘Empire’ to that of a celebration of NANAIMO. I and others do not expect this to happen this year, as you have already proclaimed May 11th - May 18th Empire Days, but we would hope this council enlightened enough to give serious consideration of a change within the next year or two.

I write this in part due to my, as well as a number of other individuals and organizations, opposition over the past 5 years to the celebration of "Empire Days" in Nanaimo. I write this also at the request of councillor Unger who in response to my questions, with regards to correspondence (attached) from the multi cultural society, at the council meeting of April 20th stated he would make a motion to the effect of considering a change in the name from Empire Days to some other more inclusive alternative.

As a proud citizen of Nanaimo I believe it is the right of all varying cultures in this great city to celebrate their presence and contributions. Where I have a problem is when that celebration, in the broader context of "EMPIRE", actually celebrates the conquest of one nation for the direct benefit of another. I also see a dilemma in that a small group of people, the Empire Days Society, resist with the blessing of council a change that would more effectively and inclusively show respect to and benefit all cultures living within the City.

In the early years of the colonization of Nanaimo, by the “EMPIRE”, there was a native village at the mouth of the Millstone River; a village that may well have been there for hundreds or thousands of years. If you go down to the site today it is easy to picture why such a village would exist in this location. The discovery of coal initiated colonization to meet the all-consuming "Empires" need and greed for the abundance provided by these lands and within a matter of but a few years this village was gone.

First celebrated in Nanaimo in 1863, "as a means for many of the miners and their families to celebrate their connection with home and the British Empire", Empire Days became a tradition celebrated throughout the community to this day. Through a search of the internet I can find only one other community that continues to celebrate "Empire", Cumberland whose celebration has run continuously for 111 years. I find it interesting to note that even in the British Isles "Empire" is not focused on when teaching its history to the people. This, primarily because of the negative aspects of the conquest of other nations for the benefit of the mother country through the subjugation of those nations; negative aspects recognized and associated with all Empires throughout human history.

Perhaps it is time in Nanaimo that we also, while respecting the heritage aspect of the celebration, move from the focus of “Empire” to something that is more inclusive. This is after all a community now made up of many cultures some never associated with and some, after gaining independence from, wanting no association with the British Empire.

Many families in Nanaimo, from many different nations, “go back” generations. They are all proud of their long histories on this land. With respect to the many cultures, especially First Nations, represented in Nanaimo a more appropriate and inclusive name for the weekend could be, as suggested in Ms. Schlosar's letter, Nanaimo Heritage Days.

Recognizing that Council, on April 20th, proclaimed May 11th to May 18th "NANAIMO EMPIRE DAYS WEEK" in the City of Nanaimo no one expects this to be dealt with this year. We do hope that today a motion is made and passed to have this issue go to committee and the public for feedback in hopes of seeing a change in May of 2010 or 2011.

Council has the power to make a decision towards change. Let’s celebrate inclusively both the short history of Nanaimo, since first contact, and the much longer history of the Snuneymuxw now & before.

Best regards;

Gordon W. Fuller – Community Advocate
604 Nicol St.
Nanaimo, BC
V9R 4T9


Nanaimo Daily News

Protest targets Empire Days Published: Monday, May 11, 2009

May celebration should be more inclusive Published: Tuesday, May 12, 2009

City Log Published: Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Imperial anachronism? Debate over empire name continues Published: Saturday, May 16, 2009

What people are saying on our website Published: Saturday, May 16, 2009


Protesters only oppose empire, not having fun Published: Wednesday, May 13, 2009

If empire is just a word, then it is easily changed Published: Thursday, May 14, 2009

Empire Days reflects the reality of our history Published: Friday, May 15, 2009

We should be proud to honour Canadian roots Published: Saturday, May 16, 2009

Nanaimo Bulletin

Empire opposition voiced Published: May 13, 2009 3:00 PM


Time to move on with name Published May 14th

City celebrates British heritage & Empire Days name suitable for former British colony Published May 16th

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