Colonization Road in Fort Frances will be keeping its name.
The majority of town council voted in favour of receiving local resident Dawson Mihichuk’s request to change the name of the road and taking no further action at its regular meeting Monday night.
Mayor Roy Avis, along with Couns. John Albanese, June Caul, Ken Perry, and Paul Ryan, voted for the resolution.
Coun. Wendy Brunetta voted against it.
Coun. Caul, who sits on the Planning and Development executive committee which made the recommendation, said it was a tough decision to make.
“I’ve lost sleep over this over the last few months, and I lost a lot last night,” she told the Times yesterday.
“It’s been on my mind all day today.
“It’s a lose-lose situation no matter what you do,” Coun. Caul added.
Coun. Caul said her ultimate reason for deciding to vote against having the road’s name changed was that it would affect those living in the 132 residences located along Colonization Road East and West, as well as five business owners.
“When you think about the impact on the people who live in Fort Frances, who pay taxes and voted for us to look after them and do what we thought was best for them, I had to go along with that feeling,” she declared.
“We voted for what we thought was best for taxpayers in Fort Frances,” Coun. Caul later noted.
“I felt that, at this time, it’s not something we should pursue.”
Some people might not think it’s a big deal to change a name but it is, she stressed.
“Every single thing that proves their existence would have to be changed–that’s huge,” Coun. Caul explained.
“Never mind senior citizens who would have to go through that, as well,” she added, noting it would affect businesses and town departments, too.
She stressed she has respect for–and sympathizes with–what has gone on in the past, has relatives and close friends who are indigenous, and does not want this to become an “us and them” issue.
Coun. Caul said she spoke with one longtime friend who is First Nations, and he said, “‘Maybe we should consider keeping the name because it is part of history and it’s time that history starts to be taught properly in the schools so that all children understand where indigenous people are coming from.’
“There’s a ‘white history’ that’s been taught in schools through the generations and the other side of it–how it affected the indigenous people–was never really taken into consideration before now,” she added.
“It is now, thanks to people like Dawson–who try to bring this kind of thing to fruition, to bring knowledge to everybody.”
But Coun. Caul also said “you can’t change history.”
“No matter what we do, you don’t forget,” she noted. “We could change every name of every street in Fort Frances and everywhere, and that is not going to change history.
“That is not going to change the feelings of certain people out there,” she added. “That doesn’t go away because you can forgive but you never forget.”
Coun. Brunetta, meanwhile, suggested Monday night that council defer its decision and get more information from local residents.
“I’m a bit concerned that the recommendation tonight is to just receive the request with no further action because I believe that the report stated there’s  residences on those two roads, and we haven’t heard from all of those people,” she noted, referring to Colonization Road East and West.
“The other thing is that I am really concerned about public perception in terms of if we are going to be the only community in Northwestern Ontario that doesn’t change the name, what kind of a message does that send in terms of us being a welcoming and inclusive community?” she mused.
“I just think that it deserves further consideration, and that we should perhaps try and get more information.”
Mihichuk first requested the road name change back in late June, stating the name was outdated and “celebrates a dark aspect of our history.”
“I am disappointed but not surprised,” Mihichuk, who currently attends school in Thunder Bay, said of council’s decision.
Mihichuk attended the most recent meeting of the Planning and Development executive committee on Oct. 16, during which time his request was discussed.
“The argument most had was the cost,” he recalled of the committee’s discussion.
“A few members of the committee, however, talked about how we should not be offended by the name and that it is a part of our history,” added Mihichuk, noting one member talked about how some First Nations’ residents think the name should remain as “a grim reminder.”
“Hopefully it will be made an election issue in 2018,” he concluded.
“Hopefully we see a change in leadership as we’ve had the same people on council for far too long.”
At that same Oct. 16 meeting, the committee also heard from Colonization Road West resident Kevin Stewart, who was against the name change and supported council’s decision Monday night to not to move forward with the proposal.
“I felt it is divisive and does not further better relations between First Nations and residents of Fort Frances,” he told the Times.
“The dictionary definitions of ‘colonization’ have been modified recently but to many residents, ‘colonization’ is a historic fact that led to a very successful, tolerant, welcoming nation of Canada, of which they are rightly proud,” added Stewart.
“I’m not against renaming when appropriate,” he noted. “I can understand, for example, that ‘Pithers’ has a direct negative local connotation.”
However, many locations in Northwestern Ontario are named for early European settlers–for instance, La Verendrye, and even Fort Frances itself, Stewart said.
“It’s not practical or sensible to attempt to totally expunge history,” he reasoned.
“Renaming Colonization Road would needlessly inconvenience and probably anger many residents, myself included, and certainly not further reconciliation or improve the lives of any local First Nations’ residents,” Stewart reiterated.
“The time and energy that went into this proposal could have been spent more productively on actions that actually foster better relations and improve everyone’s lives.”
In a report from municipal planner and Chief Building Official Tyson Dennis, he indicated “personal time”–which is hard to put a price tag on–would be the only cost for most individual property owners to get their personal identification, memberships, and mailing address information changed.
On a commercial or business property, there could be fees associated with business name registration and address, which only could be determined on a case by case scenario, Dennis added.
Meanwhile, a report from the Operations and Facilities executive committee indicated it would cost the town an estimated $2,669.51 ($1,273.96 for new signage and $1,395.55 for labour) to replace six standard green street name signs and seven blue “La Verendrye Parkway”-style signs.
In addition to that, it would cost staff time (and thus the taxpayer money) to re-label all of the property files and road construction plans currently in the Operations and Facilities office, as well as the GIS asset database.
The Operations and Facilities division also operates two facilities addressed “Colonization Road.”
And while there is no signage requiring changing on these facilities, there would be additional staff time to change this information on any billings, insurance, and so on.