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James Short Park renaming pursued due to anti-Chinese history in Calgary

A history-of anti-Chinese racism is behind an upcoming notice of motion to rename the James Short Park and parkade next to Calgary’s Chinatown.

Coun. Druh Farrell said after consultation with the Chinatown Community Association, the Chinatown BIA and other Chinese-Calgarian groups, she’ll bring the motion forward to the city’s Priorities and Finance committee Tuesday.

The motion asks for engagement with the community to come back with new names for the James Short Park, located at 115 – 4 Avenue SW. A part of that space is the James Short Parkade.  Both are on the southern border of Chinatown.

It also comes on the heels of three days of an anti-racism public consultation held by the city. Calgarians shared their experience with systemic racism during that process.

The Short renaming effort started before the Black Lives Matter rallies across the city.

Coun. Farrell said she was informed by a community member of Short’s involvement in an anti-Chinese movement in Calgary early in the 20th Century. She then consulted with Calgary’s Chinese community.

“We’re going to be doing a cultural plan for Chinatown as well as an area redevelopment plan,” she said.

“It’s an excellent opportunity for the community to address the naming of James Short Park.”

Short emigrated from Ontario to Calgary in the late 1800s. He was a lawyer, a school principal and a city councillor in his time in the city. He was also involved in an anti-Chinese movement in Calgary by trying to block the purchase of land in downtown (current Chinatown) by Chinese Calgarians.

An ‘affront’ to Chinese Calgarians

James Short Park – CITY OF CALGARY

With the park and parkade located on the southern border Calgary’s Chinatown, Farrell said the city needed to act.

“He was in direct opposition to Chinatown. He was in an anti-Chinese league. It’s a park right across from Chinatown,” she said.

“So, it’s an affront to Chinese Calgarians.

A letter from Grace Su Chinatown BIA Chair, and Terry Wong the BIA’s executive director, representing several Chinese Calgary organization, said they supported the removal of “the blight of racism and hatred of the Chinese in Calgary.”

“The selection of a new name through community engagement will allow the culture and contributions of Calgary’s Chinese society to be honored and revered respectfully,” the letter read.

Farrell’s notice of motion also calls for a plan to recognize the further contributions of Chinese Calgarians. Currently, work is being done on the Tomorrow’s Chinatown project in Calgary.

A Calgary Board of Education school is also named after Short. The motion also calls on the Mayor to write a letter to the CBE encouraging a name change.

Opportunity to revisit our naming practices: Coun. Farrell

Farrell said this is a prime example of how, when we name or rename public areas in Calgary, we’re not exploring all the history.

“That’s part of the problem. We’re telling a very small part of our history,” she said.

“We need to look at all of our stories and we need to understand all of our stories – warts and all.”

In June, a petition was started to rename William Aberhart High School in Calgary due to racist views.

In this case, the city named a park next to Chinatown after a person who stood opposed to the area.

“We have an opportunity to work with the Chinese community help them lead this process to tell that whole story, that uncomfortable story,” she said.

Farrell also said she believe this will push the city to question more closely how public places are named. That work will be done in conjunction with the city’s anti-racism task force.

Should this motion be approved, it would go to the full meeting of council July 20.