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Peak of Controversy in Canmore-page 2

Several months ago, Alfred Chow, a resident of Calgary, wrote to the Minister of Community Development strongly objecting to the name Chinaman's Peak and requesting that the name be rescinded. The Alberta Historical Resources Foundation Board held two public meetings on May 1, one in Calgary, one in Canmore, inviting submissions, both oral and written. It contacted 18 interested groups and individuals and sent announcements to Calgary and Canmore newspapers. At issue: Is the name Chinaman's Peak derogatory? Should it be changed?

The name Chinaman's Peak only became official in 1980. An article in the Banff Crag and Canyon by Jon Whyte in 1977 pointed out that the mountain didn't actually rate a mention in the Gazetteer of Canadian Place Names at that time. Whyte had discovered that the Medicine Hat News of 1896 had documented the story of Ha Ling and his feat and proposed naming the mountain for him. Although it's been known locally as "Chinaman's Peak," Whyte proposed registering it as Ha Ling Peak. Three years later, the Historic Sites Board, then responsible for naming geographical features in the province, consulted with local residents. Local usage, historical context-that was the first test of a new name and still is today. Any name which people considered derogatory, obscene, or offensive would be rejected. It seems no one objected back then and so the name Chinaman's Peak received official status.

Rumblings began though in 1989. A Calgary lawyer, startled and offended by an item about the namesake Canmore gallery, raised the issue in the Calgary Herald. However, a petition of 1,500 Canmore residents strongly opposed any change to the name of their mountain and as no written submission requested it, no change occurred.

That was then, this is now. Since the original objection became public, letters have been appearing for months in the Calgary Herald, Calgary Sun, articles in the Canmore Leader, Banff Crag and Canyon, Alberta Report, Edmonton Sun, and Edmonton Journal. People lobbied for and against a change, argued that the name was or was not offensive. Notably, the majority of people of Chinese heritage who wrote in found it offensive and many letter writers not of Chinese heritage did not.
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Reprinted with the permission of Barbara Dacks and Legacy (August - October 1997): 26-27.
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