In this case, words do matter greatly

With the ‘Welcome to Terrace’ sign now removed from its Thornhill location along Hwy16, debate continues as to its original purpose.

With the ‘Welcome to Terrace’ sign now removed from its Thornhill location along Hwy16, the debate continues as to its original purpose and intent.

Unlike transportation ministry signs which identify communities along the province’s highways, ‘welcome’ signs are much different.

While drivers don’t need ‘welcome’ signs to tell them where they are, that’s the job of the transportation ministry signs, ‘welcome’ signs do say a lot about the area and its people.

First, let’s go back to the purpose of the original ‘Welcome to Terrace and District’ sign at that Thornhill location.

It was not to inform visitors of their whereabouts. It was to extend a warm welcome to visitors from the area’s residents.

Terrace is a corporate entity with boundaries defined in law. You either are or are not a resident of Terrace. By contrast, the word ‘district’ referenced to on that sign is not a fact, it is a concept.

Thornhill falls within that district; what about Lakelse Lake? No locale is excluded. Any neighbourhood, settlement, or community beyond the borders of the City of Terrace is free to consider itself part of the district associated with the City of Terrace.

The original sign then extended a welcome to visitors on behalf of the residents not only of the City of Terrace, but also on behalf of all residents who considered themselves to be part of the district.

The purpose of that sign was to apprise visitors of the nature of the people they are about to encounter; the people of Terrace and District are a welcoming kind of people.

But then the words “and District” were dropped from the design for a new sign.

It should not surprise that the changed wording and location of the new sign gave rise to a passionate dispute.

The city had anticipated as much. A city staff report acknowledges that “if the sign had said ‘City of Terrace’ it is expected opposition would have been lodged.” It goes on to note that the Area “E” director of the day “was ambivalent about the change in the wording.”

Why were the words “and District” eliminated from the new sign? Was it a subtle hint to caution visitors that, while still welcome in Terrace, they should not expect a welcoming reception from the people living in the district?

The current Thornhill regional district director, Ted Ramsey, did not like the identity of his community being denied on its own soil.

In response to a regional district request for consultation, the city proposed three solutions to address the regional district’s concerns.

In keeping with his political responsibilities to the citizens of his community, Mr. Ramsey moved that the regional district accept one of the solutions proposed by the city.

That solution option was to: “relocate the existing sign to a more appropriate location keeping the same phrasing or using ‘City of Terrace’ phrasing instead.”

Is Thornhill being unreasonable? Imagine this scenario: A “Welcome to North America” sign is erected at the Vancouver International Airport.

We could go along with that as Canada forms part of North America. Now the sign is replaced with a new one: “Welcome to America.” There is nothing wrong with that. Canada is on the American continent and it does not say “Welcome to the United States of America.”

Would we be ambivalent about the change, or would we demand that the new sign be immediately removed?

Retired public sector administrator Andre Carrel lives in Terrace, B.C.

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