Nova Scotia

Calls renewed to rename North Sydney's Indian Beach

The name of a popular Cape Breton beach is back up for debate after the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves at residential schools attended by Indigenous children around the country. 

Councillor says she's received at least a dozen requests to change the beach's name in the last few weeks

Some people in CBRM say it's time to rename Indian Beach near the ferry dock in North Sydney. It's part of a growing number of calls to remove colonial language from place names or landmarks throughout the province. (George Mortimer/CBC)

The name of a popular Cape Breton beach is back up for debate after the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves at residential schools attended by Indigenous children around the country. 

Coun. Earlene MacMullin, deputy mayor of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, said she's had at least a dozen formal requests in the last few weeks from people who want to see Indian Beach in North Sydney renamed.

"Obviously, with everything going on with our country's past and some things that have been brought to light … a lot of local groups and individuals have reached out to me just to discuss the thought of changing the name," she said.

The councillor, whose district includes most of North Sydney, said debate over the beach's name has been ongoing since she was elected in 2016. 

The beach is located in the community's extreme north end, adjacent to the Marine Atlantic ferry terminal. The area was once a seasonal Mi'kmaw encampment when settlers first arrived. 

MacMullin said the people who've contacted her about renaming the beach are not Indigenous, but they feel embarrassed by the term Indian, which is considered outdated and viewed as being tied to Canada's colonial past.

Indian Beach has received tens of thousands of dollars in upgrades in the past five years. (George Mortimer/CBC)

On Tuesday evening, she asked CBRM council to issue a staff paper outlining steps and requirements to begin a name change should it be deemed necessary.

"Whether the name changes or doesn't, with everything going on, it does give us the option to get a little more educated and learn some history of the area," she said.

MacMullin said she's asked the municipality to include local Indigenous communities in the consultation process. 

Beach upgrades 

More than $600,000 has been spent updating Indian Beach since 2016, including upgrades to its parking areas, canteen, performance space, softball field and playground.

The project was cost-shared by the CBRM and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. 

Outdoor concerts are held at the beach in the evenings during the summer months, typically drawing crowds of more than 100 people.

Bill Weatherbee, co-chair of the Indian Beach Society, said he has no problem renaming the area.

"I know a lot of people that think it should be kept as Indian Beach, and my argument with them is it doesn't matter what we call it — it will still be 'the beach.' Because when we were growing up we just called it 'the beach,'" he said.

Weatherbee said he'd be interested in finding out if there is a Mi'kmaw name that was used for the beach.

He also suggested the name North Bar Beach, which was a former name for that area. 

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