It's coming up to three years since town council decided to drop “Pither" from the "Point” because, as a former Indian agent, his name continued to spark bitterness among local First Nations more than a century later.
Many names of towns, parks, buildings, other structures, and even sports teams remain contentious to this day. Just last week, the Assembly of First Nations called on the federal government to change the name of the Langevin Block—which houses the Prime Minister's Office just across Wellington Street from Parliament Hill—because its namesake strongly favoured establishing what would become the disgraced residential school system.
For its part, Calgary plans to rename its Langevin Bridge as Reconciliation Bridge.
Back here in Fort Frances, our town is among several in Ontario that sports a “Colonization Road"—a name that clearly carries a negative connotation for local indigenous peoples. In fact, former resident Ryan McMahon examined the issue in a 50-minute documentary of the same name that got national exposure by airing on the CBC program "Firsthand” back on Jan. 26.
Mr. McMahon argues the name is a “direct reminder of the little-known Colonization Roads Act of 1872 and its severe impact on First Nations, their treaties, and their land in the name of 'Canadian settlement.'”
Changing street names here isn't unprecedented. Back in the late 1990s, when the 9-1-1 system came to town, a couple of streets with similar-sounding names were changed so as not to confuse operators when callers were relaying addresses.
And in the case of Colonization Road, it's not like someone's name is being axed.
If we, as a community, truly are intent on fostering a new way forward with First Nations across the district, it's time Fort Frances rids itself of a name that symbolizes the very essence of what strained that relationship in the first place.
As it was right in erasing “Pither" from the "Point,” council should pursue a similar gesture in renaming Colonization Road (both East and West).
True, it's not a hot-button issue for a council grappling with balancing the municipal budget or trying to get the local mill re-purposed, among other things. But names do matter and by making the change, the town would be seen as embracing the spirit behind the 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's final report.
Just a thought.