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City’s controversial namesake explored in Saturday meeting

What’s in a name?

On Saturday, the community is invited to come learn the history of the town’s namesake, Israel Wood Powell. The Powell River Public Library is hosting author Sean Carleton, a history professor from the University of Manitoba.

Carleton’s presentation is titled “Examining the Origins of Settler Colonial Rule in British Columbia.” It’s hosted in conjunction with Vancouver Island University and the Tla’amin nation.

Discussions have been ongoing for years about changing the town’s name.

Some say Powell’s impact on Indigenous people was traumatic, particularly his role in banning potlatches. Others say Powell was more sympathetic to Indigenous people than most of his peers, particularly in how he fought the province to make sure new reserves had access to economically viable land and clean water.

But why is Powell River named after him? Powell was a friend of John A. Macdonald, architect of Canadian confederation and the nation’s first Prime Minister. He was also friends with Amor de Cosmos, BC’s second premier, and helped convince the people of BC and Vancouver Island to enter Confederation. He is most well-known for his role as the Superintendent of Indian Affairs in British Columbia.

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However, there is little history connecting him to the region that now bears his name.

According to an article by Ronald Greene, published in the BC Historical Federation’s Fall 2010 journal, the real story is anticlimactic. Greene writes:

“In the spring of 1881, Dr. Powell was sailing along the coast on HMS Rocket when a large lake and short river were spotted on the shoreline. Captain Orelebar, ship’s captain, named them Powell Lake and Powell River in Dr. Powell’s honour.”

The presentation starts at 1:30 pm on Saturday, admission is free.

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