A plan to name a new Vancouver park after local philanthropists has run into an unexpected complication based on something city officials never expected: the philanthropists’ last name.
The city wants to honor its promise to name a park in Vancouver’s Northwest neighborhood after Ed and Dollie Lynch, but after continued pushback from the community, and particularly from people of color, the park’s name may be up for debate.
The issue stems from the casual shortening of the park’s name in materials meant to promote the city’s effort to develop a sustainable funding plan known as Stronger Vancouver. When distributed to the community, the park was referred to simply as “Lynch Neighborhood Park.”
The name quickly sparked opposition. Many addressed the Vancouver City Council, reminding the governing body of the painful past associated with the term “lynch” and expressing their frustration with the city’s response to their concerns. This discussion happened not once, but twice: first at a Nov. 26 meeting and again at Monday’s citizen forum.
“The attempt to separate the word and surname erases history,” said Cecelia Towner, head of Black Lives Matter Vancouver. Dozens of Black Lives Matters supporters turned up at Monday’s meeting to discuss the park’s name. “The word, deed and name began intertwined and they continue to be … at least for black people.”
The word “lynch” has disputed origins. It’s most commonly associated with the public hangings of African-Americans, but is more broadly connected to death by hanging without proper legal trial. The term is also associated with Charles Lynch, a justice of the peace in the early 1900s who created a system to manage legal issues. Lynch’s most common sentence was 39 lashes.
The park was never supposed to be called “Lynch Park” to begin with, but the longer name “Ed and Dollie Lynch Park” to honor the Vancouver couple, who were prolific philanthropists who also donated the 9.5 acres earmarked for a park near their home in 2002.
Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle told concerned constituents speaking at the Nov. 26 meeting that the Stronger Vancouver materials would be corrected. Days following the meeting, however, marketing materials still bore the shortened name.
The damage, nonetheless, was done.
Dale Robertson said his grandson was killed by hanging while serving in the military. Seeing the term reminds him of that painful memory.
“I don’t know how important that family is, but that name of that park is going to have some negative connotation for people of color,” Robertson said at the Nov. 26 meeting. “I want the (council) to think about that name and what it represents. Not the family Lynch, but the name itself represents some things that are really negative and hurtful to African-Americans in this country.”
Many pleaded with the council to rename the park. Some proposals included Ed and Dollie Lynch Memorial Park, Ed and Dollie Park, Ginkgo Park and Heroes’ Park.
The city talked with the Lynch family after the Nov. 26 meeting and came to a conclusion. At that point, the decision was that park’s name would remain.
City Manager Eric Holmes called the ongoing controversy a “learning opportunity” for the city.
“As Vancouver grows and evolves, we are looking to improve the city’s capacity to be successful in meeting the needs of all our citizens in an inclusive and equitable manner,” he said.
A memo sent to the city council last week said it never occurred to anyone that the Lynch name “might invoke the dictionary meaning of the same word, which clearly has haunting meaning in the context of our country’s history and shadows the hearts and minds of members of our community.”
The city’s decision circulated in December, and many in the community were upset by their conclusion. That led the community to ask the council once again to reconsider.
“Words exist outside of our people, and it won’t be today, it won’t be tomorrow — it may not even be 10 years from now, but the community is going to change, and it will not be simply Ed and Dollie Lynch Park,” said Christina Smith, an English professor at Clark College. “It will be Lynch Park, whether we mean for it to be or not. You cannot sit there and tell me that that is not a problem for certain members of our community. That that is not exclusionary, offensive and downright frightening for members of our community.”
Not everyone was supportive of the request to rename the park and forgo the Lynches’ family name.
Royce Pollard, who was mayor of Vancouver in 2002 when the park land was donated, asked the council to stand by their decision.
“In the end, our last name — yours and mine — is the only thing that we have that we can be proud of,” Pollard said. “It is what you and I will be known for for years to come, good and bad.”
He said the Lynch family donated $130 million to the community over the years and their name represents kindness and generosity.
“There’s no win here for anybody if you change your mind,” Pollard added.
Former councilor Pat Jollota said the council needs to keep past promises, or its word is worth nothing.
Towner said the times mandate the city gets it right.
“In anything, to find the possible solution we have to put the problem in its entirety on the table. We have to look at it no matter how ugly it is. We have to talk about and find solutions together,” she wrote in an email. “This is never more important than when it is an issue regarding that community.”
Essentially, Towner said, the issue is being oversimplified — which she said only further illustrates the lack of cultural competency in the city’s leadership.
“It becomes even more important when our city is very white and our city council and mayor are completely white and the issue has negative racial connotations for blacks and other (people of color),” Towner said.
In search of a solution
Based on the two discussions before city council, Holmes said there are two truths to the issue.
First, there’s the stature of Ed and Dollie Lynch and the “truly extraordinary contributions they have made to this community.”
Second, the truth that Vancouver is becoming more diverse.
“We’ve heard from different perspectives this evening that present a different viewpoint,” Holmes said Monday.
He offered to set up a community listening session to formally discuss the park’s name and proceed with a formal naming process.
As it stands now, the park’s name remains a placeholder as the park remains undeveloped and awaiting about $2.5 million in funding as part of Stronger Vancouver. Holmes said the name was promised to Ed and Dollie Lynch, and the family would still like the park to bear their names, but a formal process has yet to occur.
Michael Lynch, representative for the Lynch estate, said Ed and Dollie loved the city so much they donated the land adjacent to the place they lived for more than 50 years.
“Our hope is one day the park will benefit our entire community while honoring Ed and Dollie Lynch as it was intended and promised to them over 15 years ago,” Lynch said. “Our focus will continue to be on the pressing needs of our community; specifically on the issues that bring us together, and not on those that attempt to tear us apart.”