One of the meeting rooms at the new James Bay library branch will be named in honour of Songhees elder Dr. Elmer George, who translated the Douglas Treaties into various First Nations languages. Courtesy Royal Roads University

Victoria honours local First Nations in naming new libary branch

sxʷeŋ’xʷəŋ taŋ’exw James Bay Branch a nod to Lekwungen name for area

The new branch of the Greater Victoria Public Library in James Bay officially has a name, thanks to the Name That Library campaign.

The sxʷeŋ’xʷəŋ taŋ’exw James Bay Branch will open in early spring. Pronounced s-hweng hw-ung tongue-oo-hw, it is the Lekwungen name for James Bay and was chosen after 157 of the 623 name submissions showed support for a First Nations name.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps expressed appreciation for the community’s participation in the campaign, saying it made for a tough decision by city council.

“With the City’s ongoing work towards reconciliation, and the library being situated on the traditional lands of the Lekwungen people, council felt it was most fitting to name the new branch the Lekwungen name for this area,” Helps said. The City consulted with the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations before making it official.

Two distinguished citizens, their names put forward for consideration by the two First Nations and the BC Black History Awareness Society, respectively, were selected for two community rooms at the library.

The Dr. Elmer “Seniemten” George M.S.M. Community Room will be named for the Songhees elder whose work translating the Douglas Treaties of the mid-1850s into First Nation languages saw him awarded the Meritorious Service Medal from the Governor General of Canada.

“I think sometimes people wait for someone to pass away first before they dedicate a building,” said Chief Andy Thomas of the Esquimalt Nation. “Doing this while Elmer is still alive is a sign of respect and acknowledges his work keeping our language alive.”

And the Mifflin Wistar Gibbs Study Room honours the contributions of the James Bay resident and merchant who, upon becoming the first black person elected to public office in B.C., served as a Victoria city councillor from 1866-69.

Of the GVPL’s 11 branches, four have commemorative names and seven reflect geographic locations. The new branch will be the second in Victoria and the 12th in the Greater Victoria Public Library system.

kristyn.anthony@vicnews.com

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