Town to mull road name change

Duane Hicks

Following up on an online survey first launched in April, a local resident officially has brought forth a request for town council to rename Colonization Road in Fort Frances.
At its meeting Monday night, council received a letter from Dawson Mihichuk, along with an attached list of nearly 200 individuals who signed his petition posted on change.org in support of changing the name of Colonization Road East and West.
Council referred Mihichuk’s request to the Planning and Development executive committee for its recommendation, with input from the Operations and Facilities executive committee.
“We are of the firm belief that the road is outdated and celebrates a dark aspect of our history,” Mihichuk wrote in his letter to mayor and council.
“Growing up in Fort Frances, you learn to not question the road,” he noted. “I, myself, never thought about it until I received comments about it during my time in Thunder Bay, studying at Lakehead University.
“This road makes Fort Frances look stuck 40 years in the past to anybody not from the immediate area,” Mihichuk added.
“Saying that my hometown has not one but two ‘Colonization Roads’ is something I say with shame.”
Mihichuk pointed out 2017 marks 150 years of Canadian confederation, yet marks thousands of years of living in North America for indigenous peoples.
“Colonization and settlement of these lands by Europeans was a disastrous, one-sided process in which acts of war, assimilation, and genocide were directed towards our indigenous peoples,” he wrote.
“These acts are in the past, and unfortunately we cannot change them,” he conceded.
“We can, however, change our future.
“Will Fort Frances be a town that continues to commemorate these horrible acts, or will Fort Frances move towards the future in an act of reconciliation and partnership?” added Mihichuk.
“Some may say this is ‘just a road’ and that people need to ‘get over it,'” he said.
“To them I reply Fort Frances has renamed roads for less, with much less antagonism directed towards the efforts.”
Some individuals who signed the petition also voiced strong opinions of favour of changing the name.
“True reconciliation starts from within,” wrote Candace McCormick.
“When explaining ‘colonization’ to my children, they said, ‘That is awful. Change the name.’ I agree with them,” shared Brad Oster.
“As an indigenous person from Fort Frances, I believe this is an important step in reconciliation and decolonization,” wrote Erin Gustafson.
“I am signing this petition because I believe it’s about time,” echoed Jack Hedman.
“This has nothing to do with how I feel about the actual name but everything to do with the way original people have reacted to it.
“That is very important to me because we have not shown enough sensitivity or sense to do anything about these things in the past,” he noted.
Hedman said he lives on Colonization Road West, and admitted that when he first moved to Fort Frances, he never gave the name any consideration at all–in fact, he “thought it was a rather neat name.”
“So I, too, did not understand the significance of this name and how much it hurt those people in the know,” he remarked.
Hedman also said he will be releasing a book he has written that deals with this issue quite extensively and, in particular, in the last section all about colonization and why the word is offensive.
In his letter to council, Mihichuk stressed renaming the Colonization Roads here would “let the world know that Fort Frances is looking to the future and is fostering positive relationships with our indigenous residents.”
“Now it is up to you, as the mayor and councillors, to act on this,” he urged.
“Will the issue be ignored and Fort Frances continue to be mocked as a ‘racist small town’ or will you show leadership and work towards positive change, involving the community and surrounding areas in a true act of reconciliation?” he asked.
“The ball is in your court.”