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What’s in a name?: For the granddaughter of Squamish’s Alex Munro, everything

Janice DesJardins’ family and others are calling for the new fire hall to retain his name.

To Janice DesJardins, it is an example of cancel culture running amok, a slap in the face to her grandfather, Alex Munro, and disrespect for local history. 

Munro, it is widely agreed, contributed significantly to the creation of modern Squamish. 

He started the Squamish Fire Department in 1912 and was its chief until he died in 1950. 

He was named citizen of the year.

And thus, the fire hall in Valleycliffe was named after him in 1999.

With the demolition of the old fire hall and the building of the new, expanded hall, DesJardins expected the name to be carried forward, but the hall has instead been named Squamish Fire Hall No. 1. 

At the very least, she said there should have been public consultation regarding the renaming. 

"I mean, my grandfather did everything," she said, her voice breaking with emotion. 

The graveyard — he built the coffins... He had a livery stable. He was a blacksmith; he shoed everybody's horses. He was involved in the first diking tasks that were taken to prevent flooding downtown. He built the first fire hall. He was the first fire chief. He did much more than that." 

She noted that Munro used to take bread from the bakery, load it onto a cart and deliver it up to Brackendale so that everyone got their bread. 

That is the kind of man he was, she said. 

DesJardins's mother, who lives at Hilltop House, is devastated by the hall no longer carrying her father's name, according to her daughter.

"She's very sad about it, and she's very hurt about it because she grew up in Squamish. She saw everything,” DesJardins said. 

And DesJardins said the issue is bigger than her family. 

"My concern is what is going to happen with Brennan Park leisure centre? Is it going to become the Squamish Leisure Centre? What is going to happen with Rose Park? Is it going to become Squamish Park?" 

DesJardins said she was not notified of the intended change and instead only found out while driving by the new hall, which compounded the hurt of the situation.

Others in town, like the Squamish Historical Society’s Bianca Peters, have rallied around her family, stating that the name should be retained as a part of the town's collective history.

About the new hall

The new hall, which is now operational but will be officially opened on Aug. 26, is to serve as the new headquarters for Squamish Fire Rescue, housing the fire and emergency program administration and the Emergency Operations Centre.

This new build allowed the District to move the Emergency Operations Centre out of the floodplain and improve the muni’s resiliency during natural disasters. The new facility is capable of operating for seven days on backup power, post-disaster. 

It will also help to better accommodate and respond to the community's needs and improve response times to the downtown area, according to the District.

District response

For its part, the District acknowledged it didn’t but should have reached out to Munro’s family about not continuing the name. 

“We missed an important step along the way in that we should have attempted to reach family members. Our intention has always been to continue to honour the Munro name while improving the logistics of our fire hall; we are working to repair this relationship moving forward,” said District spokesperson Rachel Boguski.

The muni and Squamish Fire Rescue “have every intention of continuing to honour and preserve our town’s history and the history of the Squamish Fire Department,” she said. 

According to Boguski, plans for continued commemoration of Munro have been ongoing for the past three years since initial discussions of a new fire hall began.

“The original rock cairn and plaque have been prominently placed at the entrance to the fire hall to permanently honour his legacy and dedication of service,” she said. 

“In addition, the original fire hall sign has been retained and will be remounted in the training grounds for the benefit of current and future firefighters. The public front entrance of the fire hall has been designed to showcase the history of the Squamish Fire Department in a publicly accessible format. A public display will feature photographs and memorabilia that will help to tell the story of the department’s history, including Fire Chief Munro’s important contributions,” Boguski added. 

Boguski said fire stations are often numbered by municipalities or by the order in which they are built, and the numbering of the fire halls is expected to add clarity for residents and visitors in the community.

“As the new fire hall is located in Fire District 1, the need for consistency in the naming of Fire Halls 1 and 2 was discussed in council during the initial building design stages along with the plan to recognize the legacy of Alex Munro by retaining the original dedication cairn and plaque.”

Boguski noted that the Aug. 26 event will include a traditional fire apparatus push-in ceremony in lieu of a ribbon cutting. 

“The ceremony is a long-standing tradition amongst fire departments that dates back to the late 1800s. Squamish Fire Rescue invites members of the Munro family to join them, along with [the] mayor, members of council and others to participate in this ritual and mark this important milestone.”

As for the concern about the names of other facilities, like Brennan Park, being dropped, Boguski said that as there are no current plans to tear down Brennan Park Recreation Centre, no conversations have taken place regarding the facility name. 

“As with the fire hall, the Brennan name will always continue to be honoured,” she said.

For DesJardins, the ceremony and plaque for her grandfather are not enough. 

"When you drive by, what do you see when you look up? You see Squamish Fire Hall No. 1," she said. 

"As soon as they do their 15 minutes of lip service at that ceremony... it is going to be known as Squamish. Fire Hall No. 1.... That was never the intention of the great big public events that took place in 1999, where my whole family that's here was present. I did the dedication along… [then] mayor Londsdale and there were other political people there besides councillors."

DesJardins would like others who are concerned or who have experienced anything similar to reach out to her via email: janicedesjardins10@gmail.com.

She plans to attend the next possible council meeting as a delegation with her mother, she said. 

District policy

A 2012 District of Squamish naming policy outlines how a commemorative name shall be granted to a municipal asset. On renaming, it states: 

"The renaming process shall be identical to the commemorative naming process and also require municipal council as the final authority for approving the proposed asset, park, trail or facility name. The renaming process differs in that it entails the discarding of an old name, which most likely has become an important part of community identity. Thus the need for public input is even greater."

Former mayor

Former mayor of Squamish Corinne Lonsdale told The Squamish Chief it troubles her that the District would drop the name. 

“Council of the day did not put a name on anything without a great deal of discussion and public input,” she said.  

“Ale[x] Munro was a key figure in the development of the fire department. I think it was the fire chief of the day who introduced the idea to the council. It is ironic that just at the time, that [current] council has retained a consultant to guide us through a process to determine what criteria we will consider to make decisions when looking to preserve and retain cultural and heritage values that they should support removing the name of one who contributed so much to our community,” she said.  

“I sincerely hope the council will reconsider the naming of that fire hall.”

 Lonsdale said the argument that the current name clears up any confusion doesn’t make sense. 

“They can be 1, 2 and 3 with any name precluding them if it is numbers they wish to use,” she said. 

“I am not sure who is confused about which hall is which when the only individuals using those halls are our firefighters, who surely are not confused about which hall is which when they get a fire call,” she added. 

“Clearly, we made a mistake when we named the fire hall by not putting Ale[x] Munro Fire hall on the face of the building. However, it is not too late to right the wrong. Let us celebrate those who helped shape the community we love today.”

Civic historian perspective

John Atkin, a civic historian in Vancouver, says commemorative naming is an interesting topic. 

“Many times, places and buildings get named to honour someone or an event, but often the name doesn’t carry over to a new structure. Sometimes it’s just the fact that something is new or that it might be in a different location means the original name doesn’t get transferred,” he told The Squamish Chief. 

In Vancouver, the Connaught Bridge was commonly called the Cambie bridge, and when it was rebuilt, the Cambie name was used. 

Similarly, the original Georgia Viaduct was named after a popular soldier and champion marksman, but the name was soon forgotten because everyone called it the Georgia Viaduct versus the Hart McHarg Viaduct, “which doesn’t trip off the tongue easily,”  he said. 

“So when the replacement opened in the 1970s, the Georgia Viaduct name was used by everyone even though it's officially the Georgia and Dunsmuir Viaducts.”

If it's a private development, sometimes a name may continue, Atkin said, because it fits with the redevelopment or the marketing.

“Even corporate names disappear. The MacMillan Bloedel building, designed for the major B.C. lumber firm, was recently renamed by its new owner as Arthur Erickson Place, after the architect. The old post office on Georgia Street is being redeveloped and renamed The Post, which will be a memory piece for some, but in a few years, I bet folks will wonder where the name came from,” he said. 

“Similarly, the Sinclair centre includes the earlier post office, the Winch Building and Customs Examining Warehouse, but the complex was called the Sinclair Centre when the renovation was done back in the 1980s. Sinclair was, apart from many things, Margaret Trudeau’s father.”

Time also plays into naming, and sometimes the distance between the original naming and today is long enough that the same passion or memory isn’t as strong, and so the name gets dropped, Atkin added. 

“As well, commemorative plaques that tell the story about an event or a place or a person get moved, removed, sometimes put in storage, and eventually they get destroyed. There’s no malice involved, just time and fading memory. The best example of this are the commemorative plaques for soldiers who died in the [First World War] that could be found in office buildings and bank lobbies, but now through renovation, etcetera many are in basements out of the site or donated to local museums.” 

The other issue is so few communities have a clear naming policy and it's often left up to individual organizations, Atkin noted. 

“In Vancouver, the Civic Asset Naming Committee is charged with naming City assets, but that doesn’t include parks, schools or libraries, for instance, which all have different jurisdictions.

“I suspect with the [Squamish] fire hall, it’s their naming convention of numbering the halls that has taken precedence over the original name.”