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Nova Scotia town to change street name, citing slaughter of Indigenous people

A Bridgewater, N.S. sign is seen on Saturday, July 30, 2016.
A Bridgewater, N.S. sign is seen on Saturday, July 30, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS

The town of Bridgewater in southwestern Nova Scotia has joined the growing list of communities that have dropped the name Cornwallis from its street signs, saying the name of the former colonial governor is too closely associated with the slaughter of Indigenous people.

Edward Cornwallis, who was also the founder of Halifax, earned a notorious reputation for brutality after he issued a bounty for the scalps of Mi’kmaq men, women and children in October 1749.

Bridgewater Mayor David Mitchell said Cornwallis’s actions should not be celebrated.

“What we learn from history is that we should ensure we are not rejoicing in the wrong things or the wrong people,” he told a virtual council meeting Monday.

“We shouldn’t be revering or celebrating bad people or terrible actions …. We know of the terrible things that Cornwallis did to the Indigenous population.”

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Click to play video: 'Crews remove controversial Cornwallis statue from Halifax park' Crews remove controversial Cornwallis statue from Halifax park
Crews remove controversial Cornwallis statue from Halifax park – Jan 31, 2018

Council heard that most of the street’s 14 residents were opposed to the change. Some expressed a concern about erasing history, the mayor said. Others felt there was a lack of consultation, and there were complaints about the annoyance of having to change addresses.

“This is not erasing history,” Mitchell said. “History can’t be erased, because it’s completed. You can’t undo history. Removing a street sign doesn’t change that any more than taking a statue down does.”

The mayor said the address changes would be an inconvenience. “But that’s a temporary inconvenience, versus the pain that is felt by the people who see that street every day and see the name of the person who murdered their ancestors.”

‘This is not about a street name’

Coun. Stacey Colwell said he respected the views of residents but he supported the change.

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“Ultimately, this is not about a street name,” Colwell said. “This is about a town’s relationship with the Aboriginal community. It’s about acknowledging past wrongs, and it’s about moving respectfully forward with reconciliation.”

Two councillors voted against the motion, saying the residents of the street had not been given the proper opportunity to voice their concerns.

“We have the pandemic and communication hasn’t been the best without the opportunity to meet face-to-face.” Coun. Cheryl Fougere said.

Read more: Former Cornwallis Park officially renamed Peace and Friendship Park

In recent years, there has been a spirited debate in Nova Scotia over Cornwallis’s legacy, as activists repeatedly staged protests at the foot of a statue of the man in Halifax, which was taken down in January 2018. Last year, a committee in Halifax recommended the permanent removal of the statue and the renaming of a local street and park honouring him.

On Oct. 2, 1749, Cornwallis and his military council approved an infamous proclamation to “take or destroy the savages.” The decree promised a reward of “ten Guineas for every Indian Micmac taken, or killed, to be paid upon producing such savage taken or his scalp.”

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