Brentwood Bay park renamed to honour First Nation history

The park, formerly known as Pioneer Park, is now HEL,HILEȻ 

At a Council meeting on September 25, 2023, Central Saanich Council approved a request from W̱SÁNEĆ youth to rename Pioneer Park to HEL,HILEȻ (pronounced hul-he-look). The students chose HEL,HILEȻ as it means "place of gladness" in the SENĆOŦEN language.

Indigenous place names recognize the W̱SÁNEĆ peoples connection to the land, and play a role in revitalizing the SENĆOŦEN language and W̱SÁNEĆ culture.

Youth from the W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership School and Stelly’s Secondary held a demonstration at the park one year ago urging the District of Central Saanich to restore a SENĆOŦEN name to the park. Hundreds of students and many community members attended the march to raise awareness of the need for reconciliation to include concrete action. The youth shared the park is a much-used gathering place of W̱SÁNEĆ peoples and the name Pioneer Park reflected colonialism.

“It was inspiring to see the passion in the students letters in SENĆOŦEN to the mayor and council members. We then met the Stellys students and delivered it by standing outside the municipality hall singing and drumming till the staff came out. It was powerful,” said SX̱EDŦELISIYE (Renée Sampson), who teaches SENĆOŦEN at the W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership School.

“Restoring Indigenous names and renaming is an action our Council is committed to as another step forward in our journey of reconciliation,” said Mayor Ryan Windsor. “I was honoured to listen to the students share how the name of the park impacted them. One of the many ways we can take action on reconciliation is by ensuring place names are inclusive and restoring SENĆOŦEN names.”

Central Saanich will be adding a temporary sign to the park until a permanent one is created with the students’ involvement.

The name Pioneer Park was originally selected in recognition of John Sluggett and George Stelly, who donated the land to the District for a schoolhouse in 1880. The name ‘pioneer’ means “among the first people to explore a new country or area” and its historical usage does not recognize Indigenous peoples. The community-minded intention of the donation will be recognized on a plaque in the park.