In the summer of 2010, an idea was circulated in the press that concerned the suggested renaming of Stanley Park in recognition of the Squamish village once located within the present boundaries of the popular tourist destination. With the heightened awareness of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples visualized by the spectacle of that winter’s Olympic games, the suggestion seemed appropriate and long overdue–long overdue as Xwáýxway was settled an estimated 3000 years ago while Lord Stanley, then Governor General of Canada, dedicated the park in 1889. Acknowledging Lord Stanley’s status as the Governor General seems particularly important as it allows the process of naming to appear strange, absurd, an historical contingency since Lord Lansdowne was the Governor General of Canada until 1888–the year Stanley Park was officially opened and a year before Lord Stanley would arrive to dedicate the park. Another example, perhaps clearer for its strangeness: the colonial-era name of the archipelago now known as Haida Gwaii was the Queen Charlotte Islands which was named after a ship named after a queen.
The reaction from the public to the suggested renaming of the park and to the name Xwáýxway itself was mixed though mostly negative. The comments contained many reflections on language, naming, and Aboriginal cultures (and it should be noted that comments rarely concerned the Squamish people and their culture instead opting for a generalized, and apparently popular, image of an abstracted and singular Aboriginal culture lacking any internal differentiation). Common topics included the apparently Scottish name of the hereditary Squamish chief associated with the suggestion: Chief Ian Campbell, the discussion of the absence of the written word among Canada’s Aboriginal peoples to frame the name as a political fiction (as if naming a civic park in honor of the nation’s current Governor General was a politically innocent gesture), and aesthetic judgments concerning the sound of the name Xwáýxway and of Aboriginal languages generally. The name Xwáýxway, along with the name of Spuzzum, an unincorporated settlement beyond Hope, was deemed offensive to ears accustomed to the English language while Haida Gwaii and the Salish Sea (a recently named entity encompassing the Strait of Georgia, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and the Puget Sound), were found to be pleasant and acceptable. One remark that is difficult to forget sums up the situation all too well. berk1952 writes, “The name being proposed by native groups is ridiculous and impossible for most people to remember or pronounce.” This comment is revealing as it questions the ability of most people to comprehend, or even say, the word Xwáýxway while ignoring the important fact that there are currently only 15 people that are highly proficient speakers of the Squamish language. It is not a matter of “remembering” the word, it is a matter of learning it and speaking it so that it may be relearned and written for those who come after.