Calgary will rename the former James Short Park and parkade 和園 Harmony Park and Parkade after approval in council on Tuesday.
James Short was a prominent Calgary who was tied to anti-Chinese racism and local injustices in Calgary’s early history. When the park was originally named in 1991, the racial prejudices were overlooked, the city said.
“Calgary’s Chinese community has been a long-standing builder and contributor that has endured and risen above the intergenerational harms of systemic racism,” said Ward 7 Coun. Terry Wong.
“The renaming is an opportunity to reflect on the past, talk about diversity in the city, and to look ahead by telling a new story that talks about harmony in a culturally diverse city.”
The renaming of the park came about as it borders Calgary’s Chinatown district. It’s located at 115 – 4 Avenue SW. The new name comes after a year of engagement with Calgary’s Chinese community. Several names were reviewed and 和園 Harmony Park and Parkade emerged as the top choice because of its virtuous nature.
“I applaud The City of Calgary’s commitment and efforts in becoming an anti-racist organization and setting the city on a course to be an anti-racist city that treats all citizens with dignity and respect,” said Teresa Woo-Paw, president of the Asian Heritage Foundation and Tomorrow’s Chinatown advisory group member.
Community led renaming looked at many different choices
Michelle Reid, the cultural landscape lead with Calgary Parks, said that the City did extensive engagement with community members to come up with a name for the park.
Among the options put forward by community members included Harmony, Benevolence, Unity, Peace, and Together. Other suggestions were to name the park after historic Chinese figures, and local Calgary Chinatown figures like George Ho Lem, Norman ‘Normie’ Kwong, and Louie Khong.
“We worked hand in hand with the community to develop an engagement plan that would work for them, we made sure that we gave them opportunities to tell stories that were really important to their community,” said Reid.
“We compiled those to try to find a name that was meaningful, we shared that within with the members of the community and the next phase, and then they worked together and they were the ones who selected harmony Park—which is very meaningful, and which was very meaningful to them.”
Starting in 2023, Calgary Parks will be installing signage that is both culturally significant and reflective of its location next to Chinatown.
“We recognize especially that the Chinese characters are so meaningful, and that the meaning of harmony is much broader in the Chinese community than it is in the English language,” Reid said.
“We recognize in the downtown that signage needs to represent the park, you know, as opposed to other recreational parks.”
Not a sign of ‘cancel culture’
The motion to rename the park passed before Calgary City Council in 2020. At that time, Councillor Druh Farrell said that the name of the park had continued to be a “bone of contention” for community members.
“The intent is not to erase history, it is to tell a complete history,” she said.
The renaming of the park was opposed by a relative-by-marriage to James Short, Alan Love, who in a opinion article included in the engagement process, called the renaming a “fast track on the cancel culture line.”
The motion was passed in council 14-1, with only Councillor Diane Colley-Urquhart opposed.
Coun. Wong said during the announcement of the name on Wednesday, that “we recognize the goods and bads of what people have done.”
He said that the current council hasn’t had a conversation over so-called cancel culture, but that the sentiment to renaming the park is such that “I don’t think anybody necessarily wants to say the people of the past are not important.”
“More importantly is the knowledge that we are on a path forward, and this path, this name is one that welcomes everybody,” he said.
Coun. Wong said that the city would find more appropriate ways of recognizing James Short.
“There has been some talk about acknowledging that James Short as a leader of the city back in the 1800s and 1900s… as a lawyer, as a school trustee, he did make contributions,” Wong said.
“At the same time, we need to acknowledge that the time is right to move forward and acknowledge that the name of the park should be one that’s inclusive for all Calgarians.”
ADDITIONAL READING: Pop-up banners reflect on history of anti-Chinese racism at James Short Park