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 honoured.
“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.”
Council heard that most of Cornwallis 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. There were also complaints about the annoyance of having to change addresses.
“This is not erasing history,” Mr. 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.”
Councillor Stacey Colwell said he respects the views of residents but he supports the change.
“Ultimately, this is not about a street name,” Mr. 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.” Councillor Cheryl Fougere said.
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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