The Empire Days Celebration Society is staying loyal to the empire, at least in name.
Society members gathered Tuesday night to determine whether to change the names of the society and its annual parade or continue under existing monikers.
The society, which organizes and fundraises for the Victoria Day long weekend Empire Days Parade and fireworks display, was denied $3,000 from the city’s cultural operating grant, plus $2,250 from the festivals and events grant at a meeting of city council Jan. 19 unless it agreed to remove the word “empire” from its parade and society names on the basis that the word is offensive to minority groups.
Bob Sears, society secretary, said the majority of society members voted to stick with tradition.
“The membership, unfortunately, has voted overwhelmingly to keep the name and not change it,” Sears said.
Brian Cash, a society member entered a motion to table the decision until he addresses city council. After reviewing the society’s regulations, the motion to table the decision was invalid because it came just after the meeting’s adjournment, but Cash said he wants to address city council to revisit the issue and its decision anyway because he questions why grants are awarded for operations and maintenance of other historic symbols, such as the Nanaimo Bastion, which could also be viewed negatively, yet the word “empire” as it applies to the Empire Days Celebration Society poses a difficulty.
“What we have done for the last 140 years is recognizing history and – cut a long story short – they want to eliminate the history background of it,” Cash said.
Nanaimo Mayor Bill McKay said the issue is part of a broader conversation around reconciliation and the word “empire” represents oppression to the Snuneymuxw people.
“We’ve got a new council now and a Snuneymuxw councillor who’s joined us,” McKay said. “We want to open new doors between us and the Snuneymuxw and we don’t want to continue to lick old wounds and that’s what this represents to them.”
If council sticks to its decision, the Empire Days Celebration Society will likely have to raise the entire $15,000 to pay for the fireworks display without help from the city. Sears said the society has the money in place to put on the parade.