Bilingual signage is coming to downtown Duncan through an initiative by the Downtown Duncan Business Improvement Area (BIA).

Following a council vote approving the project on Monday, new signs will be installed in Hul’q’umi’num and English on streets downtown.

The traditional language of the Cowichan Tribes will be printed on seven streets:

  • Canada Avenue – Q’lhan Shelh
  • Government Street – St s’hwulmuhw Shelh
  • Station Street – Liloot Shelh
  • First Street – Yuwen Shelh
  • Second Street – Sxwuts’ts’ulii Shelh
  • Third Street – Smuyuqw’a Shelh
  • Fourth Street – Thuthiqut Shelh
Proposed Duncan Sign Design
(the proposed sign design)

Some of the names hold significance in Cowichan Tribes’ culture, while others are direct or close translations of English names.

Smuyuqw’a, for instance, means ladybug, an important figure in Cowichan story-telling, while Yuwen means first.

Q’lhan Shelh was chosen because the original name of the avenue is “Front Street” and “Q’lhan” means “ahead of.” Liloot means train, for the railway station for which Station Street is named.

Station Street 1956
(Station Street in Duncan, 1956)

In addition to the street signs, the Downtown Duncan BIA is producing Hul’q’umi’num signs for display in local businesses.

The signs will read “Tth’ihwum ‘i mi nuwilum. Huy ch q’u” indicating “Please come in. Thank you.”

The Downtown Duncan BIA says they hope that the initiative will reflect the downtown business community’s leadership in building relationships and fostering meaningful connections with Cowichan Tribes.

“While Cowichan Tribes members have recently experienced racism from some members of
the community, member businesses in the downtown Duncan BIA want Cowichan
Tribes members to feel welcome in our shops,” the Downtown Duncan BIA said in a statement.

The The Hul’q’umi’num Signage project, or “Nanum tu Sul-hween i tu Smuneem”was undertaken in 2019.

Downtown Duncan BIA engaged in consultation with Cowichan Tribes from June to December 2019 to discuss possible translations for a select group of streets.

Funding for the project was provided by the BC Rural Dividend Grant.

“We hope this initiative will beautify the downtown in an inclusive way while highlighting the importance of our relationship with Cowichan Tribes, whose members are always welcome in downtown Duncan,” the Downtown Duncan BIA stated.


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