Ottawa to give Macdonald parkway an Indigenous name to 'promote reconciliation

According to the National Capital Commission, the cost to change the four significant signs along the roadside is $60,000.

Ottawa to give Macdonald parkway an Indigenous name to 'promote reconciliation
The Canadian Press / Sean Kilpatrick
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Ottawa intends to give a vital roadway a new Indigenous name later this year, citing public outcry; it is currently named after Canada's first prime minister. On Thursday, the board of directors of the National Capital Commission (NCC) unanimously approved renaming Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway.

“I'm fully supportive of this decision,” said Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe. “I think this is something Canadians and residents of Ottawa can be proud of once this process is complete.”

In June 2021, three Ottawa city councillors requested Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government facilitate Indigenous-led consultations to rename the parkway. They penned a letter following the discovery of 200 alleged unmarked graves at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C., stating an “urgent need” for reconciliation commitments.

Coun. Theresa Kavanagh, one of the letter's signatories, called the discovery in Kamloops an “absolute turning point" and a "reality check.” 

Canada's first prime minister authorized the residential school system in the 1880s, forcing approximately 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children to attend government-funded, church-operated institutions.

The last such school closed in 1996, where many suffered abuse and some died.

On Thursday, the commission committed to engaging Indigenous communities and the public to debate a new name and promote inclusion and acceptance through storytelling.

In April, they provided its board of directors with an updated policy on toponymy — or the study of place names — to provide "a more transparent decision-making process for naming and renaming NCC-managed assets." 

It formed a new advisory committee on toponymy that included members of the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg and Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nations, along with other local experts. 

“The committee's first order of business will be to consider an existing request for the renaming of the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway,” reads an NCC press release. 

In October, CEO Tobi Nussbaum informed his board that the reconciliation project was “underway.” 

“It's moving at a snail's pace, but I'll take it as a sign of hope,” said Kavanagh. “I hope that this means they've been doing some consultation with the local First Nations communities.”

The commission will announce the new name by June 2023 and commemorate it at a public ceremony on September 30, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

The parkway has carried Macdonald's name for over a decade after the city renamed the Ottawa River Parkway in his honour in 2012. 

At the time, the NCC said it cost $60,000 to change the four significant signs along the roadside.

As part of their commitment to reconciliation, the feds settled a class-action lawsuit on Canada's residential schools for $2.8-billion Saturday morning.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Marc Miller said his government signed the deal with plaintiffs representing 325 members of the Gottfriedson Band that opted into the suit. They sought reparations for the loss of language and culture brought on by residential schools.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre recently targeted the controversial Indian Act as a “disaster” and a “racist, colonial hangover” in an interview with Global News.

“I want to make it easier for First Nations that want to opt out of the Indian Act, to do so,” said Poilievre. “So that they can control their own money, land, resources and decisions.”

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