Manitoba town struggles with Nygard Park name as fashion mogul faces sex allegations

A small Manitoba town with a celebrated park named in honour of former resident Peter Nygard is scrambling in the wake of rape allegations by multiple women against the fashion mogul.

Nygard Park is in the centre of Deloraine, a town of about 1,400 people in the southwest corner of the province.

Councillors for the rural municipality have been speaking to lawyers about what to do about the name, as others also have begun to distance themselves from Nygard and his group of companies.

The park, unveiled in 2002, contains more than 200 flags from around the world as well as a commemorative plaque recognizing Nygard's financial contribution to the town.

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He donated $25,000 and 5,000 Nygard T-shirts to the town to help revitalize the area of the park, which was a former Canadian Pacific Railway yard. Sales of the T-shirts raised another $50,000.

Nygard spoke at the 2002 dedication ceremony about his fond memories of Deloraine, where he lived as a child, and the people who helped his family, the rural municipality of Deloraine-Winchester website says.

That relationship is strained now. Some people in Deloraine have contacted councillors and the RM office to say Nygard's name should be dropped from the park.

But reeve Gord Weidenhamer said the RM wants a legal opinion on what was in the naming agreement before any formal decisions are made.

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"We just want to make sure that, any decisions that are made, that we have our t's crossed and i's dotted," he said.

"We're a small little town we don't want to get into some sort of legal battle or anything like that so we just want to keep things up and up and at the same time respect this matter and respect the people that are questioning things."

There is a policy that guides the naming any public facility in the RM. It requires the name to be in place for a minimum of 10 years. Nygard's name has been on the park for 18.

"So [we're] within our rights if we ever decide to do a change [to the park name]," Weidenhamer said. "At the same time we have no comment on our decision of changing just as of yet. We are going to basically seek a little legal advice on where we stand."

Council met Wednesday night to have preliminary discussion on the matter but it was a closed-door session so Weidenhamer wouldn't comment on what was said.

"There's mixed emotions, I'll just say that," he said, adding there is no timeline for when a decision might be made on the name.

Nygard, 77, moved to Deloraine from Finland with his parents in 1952. The family later relocated to Winnipeg, where in 1967 Nygard established Nygard International, one of the largest women's clothing manufacturers and suppliers in the world.

The company has corporate offices in Winnipeg, Toronto and Times Square, New York.

Class-action lawsuit

Earlier this month, 10 women filed a civil class-action lawsuit seeking damages from Nygard, accusing him of raping them and running what they called a "sex trafficking ring."

Greg Gutzler, one of the lawyers representing the women, said on Wednesday that about 50 others had since come forward with similar allegations. The majority are from Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal.

"We have over 50 women spanning four decades now in seven countries talking about violent rape and assault," Gutzler said from New York.

None of the allegations have been proven in court, and there are no criminal charges associated with any of the claims.

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Nygard has denied the allegations through a spokesman, who has blamed it all on a "conspiracy" caused by a feud with Nygard's billionaire neighbour in the West Indies.

Since the lawsuit was filed, Nygard's New York offices have been raided by FBI investigators and some companies have dropped his brands.

Dillard's, which operates a chain of luxury department stores with nearly 300 locations in the U.S., has severed ties and cancelled all orders with Nygard International.

Earlier this week, a personal spokesperson announced that Nygard was stepping down as chairman of his company and intends to divest his ownership stakes.