'It's an offensive word:' Beckwith council to change controversial road name

·4 min read

A year-long battle to change the name of a road called Sq--w Point in the Township of Beckwith is almost over.

“We are having a meeting on the first Tuesday in December, and council is going to pass a motion changing the name to Monarch Lane. We have heard from both sides, and from legal, and this is the decision council’s going to make,” said Reeve Richard Kidd on Nov. 9.

Lanark County Neighbours for Truth & Reconciliation first approached Beckwith council back in May 2019 seeking a name change. The matter was complicated by the fact that it is a private road owned by Thomas Gardiner and Craig Bowers, and not by the township, or the road association.

“If it was a township road, we would have changed the name long ago,” Kidd said.

Colleen Gray, a Métis artist from Beckwith, said that “it’s an offensive word, that’s the bottom line.”

“Originally the word was not (negative) but very quickly developed negative connotations through the oppression and persecution of Indigenous women,” Gray said.

She further explained that “the word became associated with women who could be used, abused, who would sell their body for whiskey and warmth. It became a derogatory word that is directly correlated to Indigenous women.”

Gardiner, who owns part of the road, has a different perspective. “I don’t think they’ve done research or history on the word, there’s nothing derogatory about it in the Algonquin language,” he said.

“I had a Métis person read it over, he found nothing at all wrong with it,” he added. “I think they’re making a fuss over nothing. Craig Bowers is of the same opinion. We want history preserved.”

Gray countered this by saying, “if you’re going to argue that this word is a piece of history, it sure is, but it’s not a very nice history. When an oppressed person says this is offensive, the onus is on the oppressors to listen and react with compassion, not fight for a word that is hurting women.”

Gardiner and Bowers read a letter to council on Sept. 15 outlining the reasons why they believe the road’s name should remain unchanged.

Among the reasons were: inconvenience (cost involved in changing documents); safety during 911 calls (confusion in the address would cause a delay in response); history (to honour an Algonquin woman who drowned in the area); legal reasons (only the owner of a private road could rename it).

Asked if he’s aware that the meaning of the word has changed over the years, Gardiner said, “well, it’s changed its meaning in their eyes, but not in everybody else’s eyes.”

Kidd believed there were no bad intentions. “It’s a historical name, but the meaning has certainly changed. We recognize that it’s insulting.”

“I don’t believe that anybody had any ill intentions when they named this road a hundred years ago,” added Gray. “We have knowledge now, so to have a street named after this (word), and to have to continue to fight for it to stay in place, is appalling to me.”

Gray has lived in Beckwith for 20 years but was only made aware of the existence of the road after Maureen Bostock, a member of the Lanark County Neighbours for Truth & Reconciliation, told her about it.

“I had no idea it existed. I felt ill, sick to my stomach. I understand the damage of this word,” she remarked.

Bostock was doing research last year on the history of Indigenous people in the area when she, together with an Indigenous woman named Christina, came upon a map showing the name of the road.

After getting letters of support from various members of the community, Bostock took their concern to Beckwith council in the spring of 2019. “Ultimately they (council) said it’s not their responsibility. It’s a private road, the responsibility rests with the road association,” she said.

The road association agreed to change the name, and “by August 2020, the name had been registered with (Lanark) county,” according to Bostock.

Kidd confirmed that “we passed a motion to get it changed, but it was never changed. The county is controlling of that.”

Despite it being a private road, Bostock said council has a responsibility for road names.

“Maybe what they need to do is enact a bylaw to say that road names that are derogatory and demeaning should not be used for road names,” she stated. “That would be a proactive move. But it must be grandfathered to make sure that this name disappears.”

Gray pleaded to those fighting the name change to “please start listening with an open heart. This is not the kind of thing you want to dig your heels under. We’re never going to eradicate racism in this country if we allow things like this to stand.”

When Gardiner was pressed about his reaction to council’s plan to change the road’s name, he said: “I’d have to cross that bridge when I come to it. We actually own the road.”

Kidd said the township is aware of this and acknowledged that “legally, we could be challenged.”

Yona Harvey, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Smiths Falls Record News