New Brunswick

Saint John's racist place names need to change, group says

Some New Brunswick place names are sad reminders of the province's racist heritage — and the Black History Society of New Brunswick is pushing to have them changed to honour the contributions of the black community.

Names are awkward, insulting to the black community, according to PRUDE president Ralph Thomas

The Negro Point Breakwater in west Saint John is one of the local place names that should be changed, according to the New Brunswick Black History Society. (Google Earth)

Several New Brunswick place names — like the Negro Point Breakwater in west Saint John, and Negro Head in Lorneville — are reminders of the province's racist heritage and should be changed, according to Ralph Thomas of PRUDE.

Many people are uncomfortable using "negro," according to Thomas, and "if you go in the communities, some of the folks still use the same old N-word, which is very derogatory, offensive and insulting."

Ralph Thomas of PRUDE and the New Brunswick Black History Society have been working on the renaming project since 2015. (CBC)

Thomas has been working on the renaming project with the New Brunswick Black History Society since 2015. The initiative has been met with "100 per cent support" from government, he said.

"Most people around the province are in full agreement on that, not just people of colour," Thomas said. "White folks are [also] complaining about it."

Targeting west Saint John, Lorneville

There are two place names in Saint John that "stand out," according to Thomas, whose organization promotes diversity.

The breakwater that links Partridge Island with west Saint John appears on federal government maps as the Negro Point Breakwater.

"We would like to see that name changed to Hodges Point," Thomas said.

Members of the Hodges family were among the free black Loyalists who arrived in the Maritimes after the American Revolution.

The name Negro Point, which still appears on most official maps, could be changed to Hodges Point, says Thomas. (Google Maps)

Negro Head is a headland near Barbours Point in Lorneville. While there is no history of a black settlement in that area, the area is, according to local lore, an old burial site for black loyalists,

"Since there were no black settlements there ever," Thomas said, "we could call that point Lorneville Head instead, with a remembrance stone placed on the site to tell the community that it was an area where the black Loyalists were buried."

Continuing controversy

This isn't the first time a racially charged place name in New Brunswick has been controversial.

In 2014, residents of South Branch, a small community near Sussex, petitioned to change the name of a local street known for decades as Negro Brook Road. Until the mid-1990s, the road had been named after a once-common racial epithet.

Hariett O'Ree Road near Sussex was officially named Negro Brook Road until April 2016. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

In April 2016, the road was renamed Harriet O'Ree Road after a black woman who lived there, according to the 1861 West Sussex census.

Updating place names that use the word "negro" in favour of names that honour the contributions of the black community in New Brunswick  is the right thing to do, according to Thomas, who says "many complaints" have been filed over the years.

"We want to see the remembrance of the black folks remain," Thomas said.

"Black people helped to build the community as well as all the other people who were refugees, or Loyalists."

With files from Information Morning Saint John