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London girl, 10, sees renewed support in push to rename Plantation Road

Plantation Road is a small street in the city's Oakridge neighbourhood. via Google Maps

Lyla Wheeler of London, Ont., has been pushing for a name change for Plantation Road for over a year.

The girl, now 10, first learned about plantations in a history book that had a chapter about “life on the plantation.”

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“I was very confused about why our street was named that,” she told Global News.

“I finished the book and then I sent a letter to the councillor. (Steve Lehman) said that he would have to take it up with the other councillors and the government.”

Lyla Wheeler, 10, wants to rename Plantation Road. via Mike Wheeler/YouTube

While her advocacy has been ongoing, the recent surge in coverage and discourse over the Black Lives Matter movement has prompted her to start an online petition in early June, gathering over 2,700 signatures as of June 15.

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“She did want to revisit it now to hope to have more of that public support so people can see about the systemic anti-Black racism that for the most part a lot of people ignore,” said her mother, Kristin Wheeler.

“It feels really good to have so many people supporting me, just like how there were so many people on the rally on Saturday,” Lyla said.

Speaking on The Afternoon Show on Global News Radio 980 CFPL on Monday, Coun. Lehman said he admires the young Wheeler.

“It’s the youth that really are helping drive decisions made by people in government from my level on up. On such things like global warming, climate change and now on racism. It’s their world that they’re going to inherit from us. To have the initiative and come out in droves, to alert us to how they see their world and how we can be better is so inspiring.”

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But a name change is a complicated, multi-step process, he added.

Lehman said the process involves submitting an application for street renaming, which would then be reviewed by city staff for logistical ramifications and followed by a public participation meeting. Afterward, it would also need to be approved by council.

There’s also the economic hurdle, as the applicant would need to pay $200 for every resident on the street — reimbursement for the effort in having to go through changing their address with the government, banks, etc. — and other costs associated with replacing street signs, and other changes.

“I hope that doesn’t deter her and her supporters from moving this ahead,” Lehman said.

“With 2,500 online supporters, a couple bucks each would more than cover that cost.”

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In a post on the Change.org petition, the London girl suggested the street be renamed Josiah Hensen Way, after a man who was born into slavery in Maryland and escaped to what is now Ontario in 1830, when he founded a settlement and a trade-labour school for American fugitives from enslavement in Chatham-Kent. Henson’s 1849 autobiography can be found online.

Lyla Wheeler’s mother said that she’s inspired by her daughter’s efforts.

“I do want to be clear that it most definitely comes from her. This is something of her doing, something that she saw was not right, it didn’t sit right with her, and so she’s speaking out about it.

Click to play video: 'Push to remove racist references from statues, streets, schools'
Push to remove racist references from statues, streets, schools

— with files from The Canadian Encyclopedia.

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