Empire Days society plans to cancel its annual celebration

NANAIMO – Nanaimo Empire Days Celebration Society plans to cancel 2015 Victoria Day long weekend celebrations.

Nanaimo Empire Day Celebration Society plans to cancel its annual May long weekend events this year.

On Wednesday the society penned a letter to the mayor and city council notifying the city its board of directors and executive voted unanimously it would recommend to its members that it cancel Victoria Day long weekend celebrations for 2015.

City council voted Jan. 19 to withhold more than $5,000 in grant money unless the society removes the word “empire” from society and celebrations title on the basis it is offensive to minority groups.

“The recent council decision to force the society to change its registered name has shown us that we have lost the confidence of the City of Nanaimo, as represented by the mayor and council,” the society said in the letter.

Bob Sears, society secretary, said the recommendation has to be ratified.

“We’re shocked and disappointed because we look forward to all the blood, sweat and tears we put into this thing every year,” Sears said.

He said it was possible that First Nations and the society could jointly host celebrations over the 2016 Victoria Day long weekend.

“We could put on an historic Victoria Days weekend,” Sears said. “We can keep our society name, they’ve got their name and we could put on a Victoria Days weekend celebration.”

The society board of directors decided not to attend a meeting with Nanaimo Mayor Bill McKay, Suzanne Samborski, city culture and heritage senior manager, and Doug White, interim director for Vancouver Island University’s Centre for Pre-Confederation Treaties and Reconciliation and former Snuneymuxw chief, scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.

“[The board executive] just decided nothing positive would come out of the meeting,” Sears said.

McKay said he was surprised by the decision.

“We’d be happy to help them with name change, with expenses – just have a conversation with us,” McKay said.

White, who first raised the issue of the name ’empire’ during his time as chief, said that Nanaimo is the last city to still celebrate Empire Day, which was abolished by the British Parliament in concert with other Commonwealth nations in 1958. He characterized the current wrangling over the name change as ‘bizarre.’

“We are like the poor Japanese soldier in the middle of the Pacific on some island who hasn’t gotten the news of the war being over – still fighting decades later,” White said.

But White also praised the most recent developments.

“Today is a historic day of reconciliation,” White said. “We are a dynamic and progressive city moving forward in unity and respect.”