Algonquin family urges Petawawa to reconsider Indian Diamond Park's new name

·6 min read
Megan Pilon, left, and her mom, Melanie Ross, stand in front of a sign that reads Indian Diamond Park on July 22. The park was renamed to Mohns Memorial Park in March. They say the town's effort for reconciliation fell short when they didn't listen to Indigenous groups suggesting the park be named after Pilon's grandfather and Ross's father, Skip Ross. (Francis Ferland/CBC - image credit)
Megan Pilon, left, and her mom, Melanie Ross, stand in front of a sign that reads Indian Diamond Park on July 22. The park was renamed to Mohns Memorial Park in March. They say the town's effort for reconciliation fell short when they didn't listen to Indigenous groups suggesting the park be named after Pilon's grandfather and Ross's father, Skip Ross. (Francis Ferland/CBC - image credit)

The family of a well-known late Algonquin elder says the Town of Petawawa "missed the mark" renaming Indian Diamond Park after a local family instead of the elder or a name honouring Algonquin people — and is calling on council to reconsider its decision.

Indigenous groups in the area that were consulted during the renaming process support this request and say the town's decision is a disappointment, questioning the "sincerity of their consultation."

"I'm a veteran and I still consider Petawawa home and I'm very proud of this little town. But as of lately, it's embarrassing," said Melanie Ross, daughter of Elder Harold (Skip) William George Ross.

"Things need to change. It's time for diversity, inclusion."

Francis Ferland/CBC
Francis Ferland/CBC

In March, council in Petawawa, Ont., voted to rename Indian Diamond Park to Mohns Memorial Park, to honour the family's legacy. Henry Mohns donated the land to the municipality and his son Willard Mohns, transformed it from a gravel pit into a baseball diamond.

The renaming journey began when a concerned resident requested the town reconsider the field's name and the "Petawawa Indians" baseball team's name last summer.

A July 2021 meeting document explained that the name Indian Diamond Park has been in place for decades and was named that to honour Petawawa's Indigenous population. The notes state the term Indian is "no longer acceptable and perceived to be discriminatory."

In November, council decided to move forward with a renaming process as part of "reconciling relationships with Indigenous peoples."

There have been movements across the country in recent years to rename streets and landmarks coined "Indian," considered an outdated and insensitive term to call Indigenous people by some.

WATCH | Algonquin mother, daughter explains why they want change: 

But that desire for reconciliation has fallen empty, according to Megan Pilon.

"The town really missed the mark on bridging some gaps and healing and growing," said Pilon, granddaughter of Skip Ross.

Elder Ross was from Pikwakanagan First Nation, grew up in Petawawa and travelled to schools across Renfrew County teaching students about Algonquin heritage. He was a mentor, a traditional drummer, and a community leader, Pilon said, but he was also a lover of baseball and played the sport across the region.

He died in 2018.

"He loved his town," Pilon said.

Francis Ferland/CBC
Francis Ferland/CBC

The town consulted Algonquins of Ontario (AOO) and Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation Chief Wendy Jocko and asked for their name suggestions for the park.

Jocko requested it be named after Elder Ross. AOO suggested to name it Algonquin Diamond Park, with a plaque dedicated to Ross.

"The consultation on the surface looked great, it looked amazing.… But the fact that they didn't follow through … made it seem like a hollow, empty gesture," Pilon said.

She contacted the town to arrange a meeting with all councillors, and in August, she's hoping to ask for reconsideration.

"No ill intentions toward the Mohns family," explained Pilon. "This was such a missed opportunity."

Francis Ferland/CBC
Francis Ferland/CBC

Name change, consultation a 'pretense,' says chief

Chief Jocko said she supports Pilon, and is encouraging councillors to "listen carefully to what Megan has to say."

She went on to describe the deep love and respect the Algonquin community and Petawawa have for Ross.

"He was an important elder, a teacher, and a true gentleman," wrote Jocko in a statement to CBC.  "And he was good ball player."

[The] new name for the park ... erases the Algonquin connection. - Algonquins of Ontario statement

Jocko had stronger words for the town when it came to the consultation.

"I can understand naming it Mohns Memorial Park considering the contributions of the Mohn[s] family," she said.

"But it is disappointing that the town decided to change the name under the pretense that the old name was offensive to Indigenous people, and then decided on a new name that doesn't speak to our Algonquin heritage at all.

"It does cause me to question the sincerity of their consultation and reconciliation efforts."

Dan Taekema/CBC
Dan Taekema/CBC

Algonquins of Ontario echoed that sentiment.

"It is still incredibly disappointing that the town decided upon a new name for the park that erases the Algonquin connection to yet another piece of land within our unceded territory," reads a statement to CBC.

"At the heart of this disappointment is a consultation process that was not meaningful from our perspective."

Ross to be remembered in other places: councillor

According to the online public consultation results, only 44 participants, seven of them non-residents, weighed in. The town's survey summary document shows about half of the name suggestions related to the Mohns family. Several referred to Henry and William Mohns as their father, grandfather, and "great, great, grandfather."

Other suggestions included: Petawawa Patriots Park, Victoria Street Park, Giesebrecht Park (after another family), Petawawa River Diamond, Dream Catcher Park, and Parky McParkface.

Coun. Tom Mohns, who is part of the Mohns family, declined an interview.

He said in an email that all six councillors voted unanimously for that name.

Francis Ferland/CBC
Francis Ferland/CBC

Coun. James Carmody said he raised the concern in March whether the town's consultation with Indigenous groups was a hollow effort.

"I wanted to remind council of the importance of consultation," recalled Carmody. "It was pointed out [at the meeting] that Skip was more of an educator than a ball player."

Carmody voted in favour of Mohns Memorial Park, and said it's a "fitting" name.

"It makes more sense to honour Skip in a way that's more appropriate to what Skip was all about," said Carmody, who knew Ross.

"Education and children, they were loves of his."

Carmody sits on the library board and said it's looking for ways to commemorate Ross for his impact on students. The town is also looking to mark Ross's contributions to the Petawawa Terrace Provincial Park, he added, and the baseball park will also have a sign acknowledging the land as traditional territory of the Algonquin people.

Submitted by Megan Pilon
Submitted by Megan Pilon

However, Carmody said "everything is possible," when asked if council could change the park's name again.

The town clerk said it's possible for council to reconsider the name should a member of the public request it and a councillor puts forward a motion that passes by a two-thirds majority. It would then be debated.

However, the motion to reconsider the same matter can only be considered once in a 12-month period, according to town bylaw.

CBC asked whether this prohibits council from reconsidering the name until after Nov. 8, 2022, a year after council voted to proceed with the renaming project, but didn't get a response.

Francis Ferland/CBC
Francis Ferland/CBC

Ross's daughter Melanie Ross said the town should go back to the drawing board.

"What would it mean to me if they renamed it after my father? I would be honoured," she said. But she's OK with any name that honours the Algonquin people.

Pilon gets emotional remembering her grandfather's legacy.

"I make sure to tell people that I'm Skip Ross's granddaughter, because I'm very proud," she said, through tears.

"If they knew him, their whole faces light up. And they always say, he was my elder, and I miss him very much."

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