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Peak of Controversy in Canmore

By Barbara Dacks

Residents of Canmore say they never meant to offend anyone when they continued to call their local mountain Chinaman's Peak. Most say that in fact it was so named to honour Ha Ling, a CPR worker who won a $50 bet back in 1896 by scaling the mountain in less than six hours. A town art gallery even took the name as a colourful way of appealing to tourists.

But many Albertans of Chinese heritage have taken offence at the name. Derogatory. Insulting, they say. Perpetuating a demeaning slur used to hurt them. If not intentionally, then carelessly implying that the individual supposedly so honoured is too unimportant to be identified by name.

What happens when some people find a name offensive and want to have it changed and others do not? In Alberta, we have a process to officially name our mountains, rivers, settlements-all the geographic marks on our maps. And we have a process to change them. This spring, people tested that process in Canmore.

The Alberta Historical Resources Foundation, a Crown Agency, was set up in 1976 to assist community efforts to preserve the province's heritage. Today, the foundation's board also makes decisions about geographical names and recommends changes to the Minister of Community Development. Staff of the Geographical Names Program of the Historic Sites Service of Alberta Community Development help prepare submissions to the board and the program coordinator acts as an advisor.
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Reprinted with the permission of Barbara Dacks and Legacy (August - October 1997): 26-27.
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