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name Chinaman's Peak and requesting that the name be rescinded.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.