Two men working with residential school survivors say it’s time to rename Sproat Lake in the spirit of reconciliation.
The lake is named for Gilbert Malcolm Sproat, a businessman and government agent who helped to establish the first sawmill in Port Alberni. Sproat is also the author of a book called Scenes and Studies of Savage Life, which offers an account of the Nuu-chah-nulth people from the perspective of a colonizer.
Joshua Dahling and Vernon Williams Jr. of Lumara Grief & Bereavement Care Society approached the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District board on Wednesday, May 25 to request a name restoration for Sproat Lake. Prior to 1864, the lake was known as “Kleecoot” but was renamed in honour of Gilbert Malcolm Sproat.
Dahling said he would like to see the name restored to “Kleecoot,” but said the ultimate decision should be up to the local First Nations.
“In the spirit of reconciliation, I feel that would be the right move forward,” he said.
Lumara is a charitable organization that helps children, adults and families cope with serious illness, grief and bereavement. Dahling says that Lumara has been working with youth and families in the Alberni Valley when it comes to grief and bereavement care. The society also works with the survivors of the residential school system.
“For us to do our healing work, we have to set good energy and good intention,” said Dahling. “Knowing this history, I find it difficult to move past that.”
In his book, Sproat describes forcing the Tseshaht people to sell their land under threat of cannon fire for the construction of the new sawmill settlement.
Although Sproat was somewhat sympathetic to the Nuu-chah-nulth people compared to his contemporaries, he still ultimately believed in “the right of civilized Men to occupy savage Countries” and the role of colonizers to displace the Indigenous inhabitants of the land. In his book, he describes Nuu-chah-nulth people as “uncivilized” and compares them to animals.
“The mindset of Mr. Sproat and those that colonized the Valley were not those of people that were coming here to be living side-by-side with the people that occupied these lands,” said Dahling.
Sproat Lake director Penny Cote thanked Dahling for bringing the information about Gilbert Sproat to light.
“It’s very important information to be passed along,” she said.
Beaver Creek director John McNabb recommended ACRD staff contact Tseshaht First Nation and Hupacasath First Nation to discuss their wishes for Sproat Lake in a “collaborative effort.”
Mike Irg, the ACRD’s general manager of planning and development, noted that Sproat Lake is a provincial park, so the regional district would have to go through the province for any potential name change.
“We do want to make sure that the First Nations in the area are engaged,” added ACRD board chair John Jack.
Dahling and Williams recommended that ACRD staff speak with the Village of Queen Charlotte, which recently made the decision to restore the village’s ancestral Haida name, Daajing Giids.