Brentwood Bay Park Renamed from Pioneer Park to HEL,HILEȻ
Youth leaders successfully worked with the District of Central Saanich to provide the park with a SENĆOŦEN name, eliminating the previous name’s implication that settlers were the first to find the land.
After a year-long initiative led by W̱SÁNEĆ youth, the Central Saanich Council approved a request to change the name of “Pioneer Park” to HEL,HILEȻ on September 25, 2023.
In late 2022, youth from the W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership School and Stelly’s Secondary organized a gathering to implore the District of Central Saanich to restore a SENĆOŦEN name to the park, citing the harmful colonial connotations of the current name and the park’s function as a much-used gathering place for the W̱SÁNEĆ community. This event drew a crowd of hundreds of students and community members, all uniting to increase awareness of the importance of tangible actions in the reconciliation process.
SX̱EDŦELISIYE (Renée Sampson), a SENĆOŦEN teacher at the W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership School, shared: “It was inspiring to see the passion in the students’ letters in SENĆOŦEN to the mayor and council members. We then met with the Stelly’s (Highschool) students and delivered it by standing outside the municipality hall, singing and drumming until the staff came out. It was a powerful moment.”
W̱SÁNEĆ youth chose the name HEL,HILEȻ because it embodies the meaning “place of gladness” in SENĆOŦEN. While a permanent sign is in the works, Central Saanich will install a temporary sign at the park to reflect the updated name. The temporary plaque is meant to commemorate the community-minded intentions of the donation.
The name “Pioneer Park” was first chosen to recognize the lives of John Sluggett and George Stelly, who “donated” the land in 1880 to the District for a schoolhouse.
However, the term “pioneer” is inaccurate and harmful. ‘Pioneer’ means “among the first people to explore a new country or area.” Settlers like Sluggett and Stelly were not the first to explore the land. It was already long-occupied by the W̱SÁNEĆ community upon their arrival. Utilizing the name Pioneer Park actively erases the fact that W̱SÁNEĆ people have been and continue to be the rights-holders to this unceded territory. The renaming also contributes to the SENĆOŦEN language revitalization efforts and the general preservation of W̱SÁNEĆ culture.
Mayor Ryan Windsor affirmed the council’s commitment to restoring W̱SÁNEĆ names and renaming places as part of their ongoing journey toward reconciliation. He remarked, “I was honoured to listen to the students share how the name of the park impacted them. We have a responsibility to ensure Indigenous children and all Indigenous people feel respected, and one of the many ways we can take action is by ensuring place names are inclusive and restoring SENĆOŦEN names.”
While much reconciliation work remains, W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council celebrates this decision by Central Saanich Council and the efforts of the youth and community members who spearheaded the renaming initiative. To stay up to date on this story and others, join our newsletter below!