Councillors call for renaming of Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway

·3 min read
People walk along a path beside the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway in Ottawa in May 2020. Three Ottawa city councillors are calling for the road to be renamed in light of the discovery of the remains of 215 children at a former residential school in B.C., and the role the first prime minister's government played in that legacy. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press - image credit)
People walk along a path beside the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway in Ottawa in May 2020. Three Ottawa city councillors are calling for the road to be renamed in light of the discovery of the remains of 215 children at a former residential school in B.C., and the role the first prime minister's government played in that legacy. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press - image credit)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

Three Ottawa city councillors whose wards include the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway are calling on the federal government to launch an Indigenous-led process to rename the road as soon as possible.

Macdonald was a Father of Confederation who was elected Canada's first prime minister in 1867, leading his party to victory six times before his death in 1891.

During that time, Macdonald's government enforced policies that starved Indigenous people to force them from their land, outlawed their ceremonies and centralized and expanded a residential school system that took generations of children from their families and tried to wipe out their cultures, as detailed during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The legacy of those schools was unearthed again last week when the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation announced a search had confirmed the presence of the remains of 215 children buried at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia.

Estimates of the number of children who died after being forced to attend the residential schools range from 4,100 to more than 6,000.

WATCH | Renaming the Ottawa River Parkway in August 2012:

Road renamed in 2012

On Wednesday, Ottawa city councillors Jeff Leiper, Theresa Kavanagh and Catherine McKenney published a letter reflecting on last week's discovery and calling on the federal government to rename the parkway, which runs west of downtown along the Ottawa River.

"As First Nations people across Canada demand justice for the ways they have been repeatedly failed by our governments and institutions, the need for renaming this prominent area in the nation's capital is evident," they wrote.

The councillors are asking the federal government to follow the example of Charlottetown, where council decided unanimously this week to remove a statue of Macdonald from the P.E.I. capital's downtown.

"That mass grave of 215 children has horrified Canadians coast to coast to coast," Leiper told Radio-Canada in an interview Wednesday afternoon.

"I think we likely have an opportunity here to do some soul-searching and remove that traumatizing name from the many, many places in which it is located."

In Ottawa, the federal government would be involved because the parkway is managed by the National Capital Commission (NCC), a Crown corporation that manages many roads, paths, parks and other spaces in Ottawa and Gatineau, Que.

Name on parkway 're-traumatizing'

The parkway was renamed for Macdonald in 2012 after Ottawa historian Bob Plamondon, who went on to serve on the NCC's board, pushed the city to rename Wellington Street on Parliament Hill after Macdonald.

Renaming the former Ottawa River Parkway was seen as a compromise, and the NCC's chief executive officer said at the time no other names were considered.

Leiper noted that the parkway runs along the shores of a "very spiritual gathering place" for the Algonquin Anishinaabe people, and having Macdonald's name on parkway signage is "re-traumatizing every time people see it."

"I think that it is important that we not celebrate a history of injustice," said Leiper.

"And at this point, I think it's beyond debate."

Support is available for anyone affected by the lingering effects of residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting