N.L.’s Quidi Vidi village drops ‘plantation’ from building name ahead of royal visit

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. – A historic fishing neighbourhood in Newfoundland and Labrador’s capital is renaming of one its buildings less than a month ahead of a visit by Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, the city confirmed Thursday.

The Quidi Vidi Village Plantation is being renamed the Quidi Vidi Artisan Studios to better reflect its current vocation as an arts incubator, St. John’s Mayor Danny Breen said in a statement.

“While this facility operated as a fishing plantation in the past, individuals may be confused or offended by the name,” the statement read.

“The facility is used as an art incubator, from which many successful artisan businesses have developed, and the new name will reflect its use.”

The heir to the throne and his wife are set to visit the Quidi Vidi area when their tour of Canada kicks off May 17. The couple will walk around the harbour, visit a microbrewery and learn about rug hooking at the newly renamed building.

Breen’s statement said the building will be renamed in 2022 following a consultation process. Meanwhile, the neighbourhood’s website and social media accounts have already been changed to reflect the new name.

In a followup email on Thursday, the mayor confirmed that the couple’s visit played a role in speeding up the renaming process.

“Given the national attention that our province and city expects to receive during 2022 Come Home Year, including a visit from the Royal Family … city staff made the recommendation to city council to proceed with removing the former name and temporarily naming the facility the Quidi Vidi Artisan Studios,“ he wrote, adding that council agreed.

Jeff Webb, a professor with the history department at Memorial University of Newfoundland, said that while the word “plantation” is often associated with the American South and slavery, it was used more broadly in the 17th century to refer to a wide range of businesses.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, the term “planter” was used to describe the head of a small fishery and “plantation” described buildings associated with the business, he said.

The word was also used to mean “colony,” Webb added. Work on the Newfoundland plantations, he said, was generally done by hired servants and labourers.

The visit comes amid increased scrutiny of other royal tours, including a recent trip to the Caribbean by Prince William and his wife, Kate, that drew criticism for perpetuating images of Britain’s colonial rule.

Webb said the context for the Newfoundland visit is different from royal visits to former Caribbean colonies, which he said were “founded on slavery and the British Crown.”

Newfoundland and Labrador, he said, didn’t begin as a colony at all; rather, he explained, it started as a seasonal fishery where people from England and Ireland would come work every year before returning home.

Many Canadians might feel ambivalent or negative toward the Royal Family, but they don’t have the same level of anger or sensitivity to the throne that residents of Caribbean nations have, he said.

“I think it would be kind of an insult to the Jamaicans and the Barbadians for us to be claiming that our situation was anything like theirs, because it’s really not,” he said.

He said the name “plantation” is likely being withdrawn for the reasons city council gave: it doesn’t reflect its current function as an artists’ hub.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 28, 2022.

— By Morgan Lowrie in Montreal.