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Randy Crowell stands on a meridan near a tree with a yellow ribbion, tied in support of Canadian soldiers on 97 St. in Edmonton, on June 27, 2011. Mr. Crowell wants to rename the street "Heroes Blvd." (Jason Franson for the Globe and Mail/Jason Franson for the Globe and Mail)
Randy Crowell stands on a meridan near a tree with a yellow ribbion, tied in support of Canadian soldiers on 97 St. in Edmonton, on June 27, 2011. Mr. Crowell wants to rename the street "Heroes Blvd." (Jason Franson for the Globe and Mail/Jason Franson for the Globe and Mail)

Plan to rename street 'Heroes Boulevard' hits roadblock Add to ...

Randy Crowell wouldn't make much of a soldier. He is, by his own estimation, past his prime - "too fat and too old" to join the ranks.

The 51-year-old Edmonton dentist does, nevertheless, have a soft spot for those doing what he does not. He's the type to shake the hands of soldiers he passes in the street, to raise his voice eagerly while singing their praises, and he itches to make a lasting tribute.

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So began Dr. Crowell's populist mission: to persuade Edmonton, a military town, to rename a major road "Heroes Boulevard" in honour of its troops. However, his grassroots campaign has run up against unlikely opponents - the city and the Canadian Forces.

Local military leaders cringed at the name, city staff say - specifically, they thought that referring to all members of the military as "heroes" would dilute the tribute of Ontario's Highway of Heroes, the route travelled by processions carrying the bodies of soldiers who died overseas. Local base officials also thought that soldiers, who generally consider themselves to be people doing a job rather than heroes, would be uncomfortable with such a name. The city, meanwhile, balked at the cost of changing signs.

Dr. Cowell's initiative began in 2008, when thousands signed a petition supporting it. "I'm trying to do something a little more permanent than just putting a magnetic sticker on the back of my truck," the father of three said.

Several other regions have renamed roads. The stretch of Highway 401 across part of Southern Ontario now known as the Highway of Heroes is the most prominent example. This month, British Columbia gave the same name to one of its own roads.

In its 2005 centennial celebrations, Alberta named a route in the province's southeast Veterans Memorial Highway. Other towns and counties across the province also have road names commemorating soldiers and veterans.

But leaders in Edmonton - which has in recent years renamed streets for hockey stars Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier - have tiptoed a delicate line. They supported Dr. Crowell's general goal, but shot down his proposal to rename 97th Street, a main thoroughfare running between downtown and the city's military base, along which commemorative ribbons are often tied.

"I think the city should do something for these [soldiers]" Dr. Crowell said.

With the Afghan mission winding down, he's reviving his campaign once more and has secured some support - provincial cabinet minister Thomas Lukaszuk wrote Dr. Crowell a personal letter backing the initiative.

"If we have renamed a major corridor for Wayne Gretzky, and we have renamed a major corridor for Mark Messier, it would be very difficult to take a position saying our young men and women in uniform don't deserve equal or greater recognition," Mr. Lukaszuk said in an interview.

But the city, not the province, would have to make the decision and pay for the changes. And its leaders bristle at the suggestion they've not done enough.

Mr. Lukaszuk is simply trying to "get his name out there," retorted Ed Gibbons, an Edmonton city councillor who, until recently, chaired the Edmonton Salutes Committee, an official group created to promote and recognize the local military. "It [the renaming]is a great idea. The military is a huge part of our city and our region ... [but]the cost of changing everybody's address would be prohibitive."

Rather than recommending Dr. Crowell's idea, the committee backed a motion to have a statue built in the city's main square downtown. (A spokesman for the base said this week the military appreciates the statue, and won't be weighing in one way or another on the name debate).

"The genesis of that began as all these discussions around the renaming of 97th Street. So, the good news is it really will have an excellent outcome," said civilian Diane Trenn, committee co-chair. "I think that the city does a whole bunch to honour our veterans and honour our military. I don't think there's ever too much you can do, but I don't think we've been inactive doing it."

Dr. Crowell thinks private citizens want to do more, but he'll have to clear several hurdles to get 97th Street renamed. The first would be to seek an honorary renaming, which wouldn't require address changes and would be cheaper than a formal, full-scale one.

He next needs to find a name more suitable to the people he's trying to honour - "valour" and "veterans" are used in other regions, and wouldn't draw the objection "heroes" did.

"Within their organization, they didn't feel comfortable having the soldiers necessarily take on that name," said Cory Sousa, an Edmonton city planner in charge of street naming. "I've never once heard someone say they [soldiers]shouldn't be honoured, and I think everyone's in agreement in that."

Finally, Dr. Crowell will need to stir the kind of popular support he got in 2008, when local radio stations championed his cause.

"I think there's overwhelming support by Edmontonians to do that [rename the street] providing the cost is reasonable," Mr. Lukaszuk said. "Obviously, for patriotic reasons, any way we can recognize our military, it's the right thing to do."

Follow on Twitter: @josh_wingrove

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