Benjamin William Pearse surveyed Nanaimo, including the area the park lies within, in April 1859 for the colony of Vancouver Island. Pearse’s original hand-written field diary is preserved in the Nanaimo Community Archives. (Nanaimo Community Archives/News Bulletin)

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Naming park for land surveyor problematic

Benjamin Pearse surveyed land around Nanaimo for settlement, says letter writer

To the editor,

Re: Name of historical land surveyor proposed for East Wellington Park, March 10.

At a time when reconciliation with First Nations is a crucial issue, naming Nanaimo’s East Wellington Park after Benjamin William Pearse, a colonial era surveyor-general of Vancouver Island, may be questionable and inappropriate.

In the 1850s, Britain was pursuing a policy of European settlement in its newly acquired lands – including Vancouver Island. Surveyors such as Pearse laid out townsites from Victoria to Nanaimo in neat British models to facilitate the sale of land to European settlers.

Pearse surveyed land around Nanaimo for pre-emption by settlers. Under Governor James Douglas’s Land Proclamation Act of 1859, British subjects could pre-empt – claim and settle – upon any lands, to a maximum of 160 acres, simply by filing a claim and making improvements to the value of 10 shillings an acre. The problem with the pre-emption system was that by 1866, Pearse’s boss, B.C. Commissioner of Lands Joseph Trutch, prohibited First Nations people from the right to preempt land, thus alienating them to this day from their own traditional territories.

Perhaps a more appropriate name for East Wellington Park might be the very name Pearse identified in his 1852 survey as the original Snuneymuxw name – Wak-Siah, meaning ‘far away.’

As for Pearse, he was later promoted to head B.C.’s Department of Public Works. His time there was marked by accusations of corruption, kickbacks and mismanagement over construction of the B.C. Penitentiary which forced his resignation from public life in 1880.

Ivan Bulic, Gabriola Island

The views and opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are those of the writer and do not reflect the views of Black Press or the Nanaimo News Bulletin. If you have a different view, we encourage you to write to us or contribute to the discussion below.

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