Why Puslinch councillors won't change name of Swastika Trail

A street name that has created a rift between neighbours in a normally tight-knit community in Puslinch Township will remain unchanged. On Wednesday night, council voted four to one to leave Swastika Trail as is.

Council heard 14 delegates speak in favour of and against changing the name

Puslinch council voted four to one to not get involved in changing the name of Swastika Trail. (Carmen Ponciano/ CBC)

A street name that has created a rift between neighbours in a normally tight-knit community in Puslinch Township will remain unchanged after council voted four to one that this was one issue they did not want to touch.

Councillors and residents gathered Wednesday night to discuss and debate whether a short private road known as Swastika Trail should be given a new moniker. 

Fourteen delegations spoke during the meeting, some arguing that the name should be changed, some saying it should stay as is.

Those who want the name to change argue the word swastika will forever be linked to hatred, anti-Semitism and the Second World War.

Those who want to keep the name told councillors that they were not ashamed of where they live, saying the street was named in the early 1920s, before the Second World War.

"I really struggled a lot with making this decision," Councillor Susan Fielding told CBC News. "I felt that both sides had very valid and heartfelt arguments as to why they wanted to either keep the name or change it."

"I wanted to err on the side of democracy. The cottage association did have a vote and by a slim margin the majority of residents wanted to keep the name."

'Council did do the right thing'

Council debated the motion for some time before taking a vote.

Puslinch Mayor Dennis Lever said council did the right thing by not getting involved.  

"I voted not to get involved and change the name," Lever said. "Council did not believe that there was any hint of discrimination or vindictiveness or antisemitism involved."

But not all councillors felt the same way. John Sepulis was the one councillor who voted in favour of a name change.

"This issue has caused a lot of strife in the community and it's going to continue to do so as long as the name swastika is associate with what it is today," Councillor John Sepulis told CBC News. 

 "I don't want this issue to cast a dark shadow on Puslinch," he added.

Although the township council decided not to get involved and change the road name, some residents say they won't give up and are willing to take the issue to a higher level of government. 

"I had applied for a swastika license plate and the Ontario government turned it down, citing human rights discrimination. So I am going to go back to the Ministry of Transportation and say, "Why is that word on my driver's license?" and I want an answer for that," James Horton told CBC News Wednesday night. 

"If I need to I'll file a complaint under the human rights tribunal. That's my democratic right."