Amongst sunlit books and colourful, interactive stations many people sat anxiously awaiting the grand opening of the sxʷeŋxʷəŋ təŋəxʷ James Bay Branch of the Greater Victoria Public Library.
Since the soft launch in late April, over 14,000 people have visited the new location, checking out over 13,000 items.
“I was here the day it opened, and I’ve been in here two or three times a week ever since,” said library patron Karen Gallagher. “I really love this library, and all the staff are very great and happy.”
While the library’s popularity was happily acknowledged, Saturday’s grand opening was focused on recognizing the namesake of the building, and its meeting rooms.
Dr. Elmer Seniemten George is a Songhees elder famous for translating the Douglas Treaty into the Lekwungen language. One of the rooms at the new library bears his name.
“You know, all my life growing up I never thought one day people would call me doctor,” he laughed. “I’m thankful today for those that asked us to come here, because it’s part of our culture to open a place like this with a prayer.”
George was joined by Esquimalt elder Mary Anne Thomas as well as Hereditary Chief Ed Thomas.
“This is a great opportunity for the James Bay community, but also to the Esquimalt and Songhees First Nations to share who we are, and to keep that connection alive,” Ed Thomas said.
The name sxʷeŋxʷəŋ təŋəxʷ is Lekwungen for the territory now known as James Bay.
Songhees Chief Ron Sam echoed Thomas’ words, saying that recognizing the Lekwungen language was a step towards reconciliation, even when many people didn’t agree with the name initially.
“Just to see the controversy that it starts amongst people … I see that as reconciliation in this day-and-age, to have those people that don’t really agree with the traditional name, a language of this land before contact,” Sam said. “It’s about recognizing our ancestors, our people … but also members of our community now.”
Another room in the library was named after Mifflin Wistar Gibbs – the first black man to be elected to Victoria council – who took his seat in the 1860s. He also became the first black judge in the United States. His great-great-grand-niece, Dr. Verna Gibbs, spoke on his behalf.
“I want to tell you how honoured I am to have my Uncle Mifflin, [that] his study room is in a library, because he actually wrote his autobiography and it’s a book,” she said, holding it up in her hand. “I really appreciate more than or equal to the study room, the fact that there is a book that he wrote, and another that a Canadian wrote about him.”
For more information on the library you can head to gvpl.ca/branches-hours/james-bay-branch/