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Colonial Placenames in Victoria, B.C.

An examination of colonial placenames in and around Victoria, B.C., and the colonial figures for whom they are named.

George Blenkinsop

George Blenkinsop came to the West Coast as an HBC steward in 1840 (Mackie, para. 2), eventually rising to the position of chief trader in 1855 (para. 4). He shifted to federal government work after Confederation, undertaking a census of Indigenous Peoples throughout the province, which he used to recommend the establishment of substantial reserves for Indigenous Peoples (para. 8). He later became an Indian agent, playing a role in shaping how the government treated Indigenous People. 

Blenkinsop often spoke of Indigenous Peoples in dehumanizing or infantilizing ways, suggesting that settlers needed to take action to shape their lives. He wrote that they “are so wedded to their old customs, and even filth, that they have to be driven to make the least effort to rise above their present degraded level” (qtd. in Bracken 70). He believed that white people needed to impose their culture onto Indigenous Peoples by force: “It requires but firm and judicious management to bring them under the sway of civilization as far as is practicable with any of their race” (qtd. in Bracken 70).  

Blenkinsop’s work as an Indian agent directly contributed to the potlatch ban. The custom that white settlers called the “potlatch” is a gift-giving festival among multiple  Nations in the Pacific Northwest that functioned to “redistribute wealth throughout the community, preventing serious wealth inequality and the formation of an impoverished class, as well as preventing the formation of a wealthy class of heirs who can prosper without labor by living off inheritances” (Cortés, para. 8).  

In his report on the Nuu-chah-nulth to the superintendent of Indian affairs, Blenkinsop wrote that until they stopped engaging in the tradition of potlatch, “there can be little hope of elevating them from their present state of degradation” (qtd. in Bracken, 37). He saw Indigenous People as inferior to Europeans and attributed this inferiority to their engagement in the “pernicious system” that was the potlatch (qtd. in Bracken 70). The tradition was foreign to Blenkinsop and he did not understand it, so he tried to eliminate it, despite their resistance: “The question of ‘potlatching’ has engaged my most serious attention... I have pointed out to them over and over again, the evils attending it” (qtd. in Bracken 70). When they continued to engage in the ceremony, Blenkinsop advocated for legislation against the potlatch.  

In 1884, Prime Minister MacDonald banned the potlatch, calling it “a debauchery of the worst kind” (qtd. in Hou 8). Indigenous People expressed pain at this legislation, writing in a petition to MacDonald, “The white man gives feasts to his friends and goes to the theatres; we have only our ‘potlachs’ and dance for amusement; we work for our money and like to spend it as we please, in gathering our friends together and giving them food to eat, and when we give blankets or money, we dance and sing and all are good friends together” (qtd. in Hou 37). Their pleas fell on deaf ears, and the potlatch remained illegal for 67 years, leading to the incarceration of individuals who partook in the tradition and the confiscation of hundreds of ceremonial objects (Noakes, para. 1). Blenkinsop’s harms against Indigenous Peoples persisted long after his own death through this ban. 

Locations named after George Blenkinsop

  • Blenkinsop Street (Victoria, B.C.)

  • Blenkinsop Lake and valley 

  • Blenkinsop Bay (near Strathcona, B.C.) 

  • Blenkinsop Islet (Kitimat, B.C.)  

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