They’re looking to name the secondary school being built in the new Royal Bay neighbourhood down the hill from my house.
So far, the leading contender is — wait for it — Royal Bay secondary, a choice so bland, safe and prosaic that it might have been selected by the editorial board of an airline in-flight magazine.
This is not, I hasten to add, out of the ordinary in B.C., where schools are often named for the communities in which they sit — Prince George secondary, South Kamloops (which I still call KamHigh) and Armstrong senior secondary, a name that disappeared after someone figured out the acronym.
But at least those are real places. The planners only dusted off the little-used “Royal Bay” for the soon-to-be neighbourhood because that sounds better than “The Old Gravel Pit.”
It is now common for new areas to emerge with names that have more to do with marketing than history. Property developers conjure up images of tranquility with names derived from what got bulldozed to make way for the condos: Walnut Grove, Whispering Pines, Whooping Crane Nesting Area. Suburban housing estates, golf courses and wineries all dine from the same menu, choosing one from column A (Cedar, Eagle, Deer, Oak, Bear, Sunny) and a second from column B (Creek, Hills, Ridge, Heights, Lake, View).
Makes you wonder what the map would have looked like had our forefathers been thinking that way when picking place names. Doubt if we would have Climax, Sask. or Dildo, N.L. (or, in England, the town of Ugley, where the Ugley Women’s Institute famously rebranded itself as the Women’s Institute of Ugley).
Same goes for Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, Alta., or Punkeydoodles Corners, Ont. Here in B.C. we probably wouldn’t have Horsefly, Deadman Creek or Wonowon, so called because it is at Mile 101 of the Alaska Highway.
Place names change with time. With Canada at war with Germany in the First World War, Berlin, Ont., became Kitchener. More recently, aboriginal designations have been restored: the Queen Charlottes reverted to Haida Gwaii, Frobisher Bay gave way to Iqaluit and the Nass Valley’s Canyon City became Gitwinksihlkw (for those wondering how to pronounce it, the Q is silent, just like Christy Clark on the Enbridge pipeline).
In B.C., most alterations must be approved by the Geographical Names Office. That agency doesn’t initiate changes, only responds to requests. It also follows guidelines: geographical features may not be named after a person until he or she has been dead at least two years, there’s no commemorating victims or tragedies, and submissions must be in good taste. Discriminatory or derogatory names won’t be considered. Indeed, many names have been excised due to changing sensibilities.
But back to school, as it were. There’s a pretty good argument to be made for names that honour deserving individuals. Some schools even commemorate an inspirational figure who few knew existed, as was the case with Mill Bay’s Frances Kelsey Secondary, named for the locally born scientist who blocked approval of the drug thalidomide — later linked to horrific birth defects — in the U.S.
Surely my school district could dig up (though, hopefully, not in the old gravel pit) a local hero who could be similarly honoured.
Or perhaps we should just be glad we’re not in Newton, Mass., where they’re currently looking at selling naming rights in two high schools for $6 million.
Crown Royal Bay High, anyone?
Jack Knox is a former Kamloops Daily News city editor who now writes for the Victoria Times Colonist.