Nova Scotia

Task force suggests renaming Cornwallis Street, park and creating new museum

The task force set up to review the commemoration of Edward Cornwallis and Indigenous history in Halifax have made multiple recommendations, including establishing a new civic museum and renaming a park and street that are currently named after the city's founder.

Report has 20 recommendations and was joint initiative of HRM and Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaw Chiefs

The statue of Halifax's founder, Edward Cornwallis, has been the subject of debate for several years. It was removed from Cornwallis Park in 2018 and has been in storage ever since. (Robert Short/CBC)

The task force set up to review the commemoration of Edward Cornwallis and Indigenous history in Halifax have made multiple recommendations, including establishing a new civic museum and renaming a park and street that are currently named after the city's founder.

The final report from the group, which was a joint initiative of the city and the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaw Chiefs, was posted Friday as part of the agenda for Tuesday's council meeting.

There are 20 recommendations in the report, with the first being that Cornwallis's statue not be returned to a position of public commemoration "under any circumstances."

The statue of Cornwallis was removed from the park that also bears his name in January 2018 and placed in storage.

Cornwallis, who as British governor of Nova Scotia between 1749 to 1752, had a career "characterized by violence directed against non-English peoples, including Mi'kmaq, and Highland Scots," the report said. 

Although his assumptions of racial superiority were not uncommon for a man of his era and social background, "continued public commemoration of his role is incompatible with current values."

Coun. Waye Mason, whose district includes Cornwallis Park, said the recommendations are excellent and unsurprising given similar movements to reckon with colonial statues around the world.

"I think it's important and I felt like the report has really nailed it. They did a great job with a very difficult topic," Mason said.

Statue should go to future museum: report

It is recommended the Cornwallis statue be kept in storage pending the creation of a civic museum owned and operated by the municipality, when it can be transferred to that collection.

The city should begin immediately to explore potential funding and planning processes for the museum, says the task force.

Pending the outcome of such a facility, it's suggested HRM create a virtual museum, along with supporting the Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre to help it display material representations of Mi'kmaw history.

They also suggest that Cornwallis Park be renamed Peace and Friendship Park. It should be repurposed to allow for the creation of a performance space, while any civic programming there should have an emphasis on education as a way of combating racism. Consideration should also be given to redesigning the park and redoing the landscaping.

Some commemorations no longer fit today's 'ethical standards'

"There are occasions when older forms of commemoration no longer fit with the ethical standards of today. To make changes for that reason is not to 'erase' history, but to take a responsible approach to maintaining the integrity of public commemoration," the report said.

"Monuments that were intended to glorify colonization must be measured against increased understandings of the devastating costs inflicted on Indigenous populations in many parts of the world."

Another recommendation would be that Cornwallis Street, subject to an expression of approval by the congregation of the New Horizons Baptist Church, be renamed New Horizons Street.

The historic church, formerly the Cornwallis Street Baptist Church, rebranded in May 2018 as a show of solidarity with Indigenous people upset with the name's connection to Cornwallis.

A tour group in 2018 stands at the platform where until earlier that year, a statue of Cornwallis stood. (Marina von Stackelberg/CBC)

Coun. Lindell Smith, whose district includes Cornwallis Street, said he supports renaming the road, but would like to have further discussion on the potential name.

It's a historic street, and while New Horizons represents an iconic church, the name itself is still new, Smith said Friday.

He said he's gotten lots of emails and calls in the past year from residents interested in renaming the street after late civil rights activist Rocky Jones.

"For me, it's how do we also recognize the historic value of the community. Rocky Jones could be it, it could be someone else or something else," Smith said.

The next steps would hopefully include taking the naming recommendations back to area residents to get their thoughts, he said.

Using Mi'kmaw names for streets, civic assets

Other recommendations include that HRM should work with the Mi'kmaw community to generate a longer list of new potential names for streets and other civic assets, and more use of the Mi'kmaw language in naming and signage.

That could begin with anglicized Mi'kmaw names being adjusted back to the original, such as Chebucto Road to K'jipuktuk Road.

David Jones, a historian in Dartmouth, N.S., said he was happy to see the task force take the creation of a civic museum so seriously.

The municipality has a beautiful collection sitting in storage, Jones said, and a virtual museum followed by a physical one would be a great way to "literally shake the dust" off local knowledge and artifacts.

Jones is hopeful all three levels of government could get involved in a civic museum, which is something he and many others have wanted for a long time.

Changing names 'the proper thing to do,' says historian

Removing the anglicization of Mi'kmaw names is also the "proper thing to do," Jones said, since it does a disservice to the actual language.

By changing names back, "it gives Mi'kmaw its proper treatment and credit," he said.

The report also suggests HRM start a process with people from the Mi'kmaw community to identify more outdoor spaces for commemoration of Indigenous history.

It suggests priority be given to memorializing survivors of the Shubenacadie Residential School and missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

When it comes to the upcoming Cogswell Street redevelopment project, the report recommends involving Mi'kmaw artists and designers, as well as requiring affordable housing.

It's also recommended that the city work with Mi'kmaw organizations to offer educational opportunities outside formal school in areas like treaty education and Mi'kmaw language education, while libraries in particular should be supported in creating these programs.

Reconciliation process will be 'generational,' says councillor

They also ask that copies of this report be placed in schools and libraries throughout the municipality.

The last recommendation is critical, Mason said, where it says HRM should nurture their close relationships with Mi'kmaw people and organizations in Halifax.

"The work that's in this report doesn't happen overnight," he said. "This is part of a very long, even generational process around reconciliation so this is just another step."

Council to discuss report next week

The task force said there was extensive public engagement, as well as written submissions, and their report says their recommendations are consistent with the views of most public contributors.

Many of the recommendations will cost little or nothing, while others will require investment that will enhance cultural infrastructure, including economic benefits through tourism, the report said.

Staff are recommending regional council accept the report, approve the proposed HRM responses, and direct the CAO to come back to council annually to report on their progress.

With files from Pamela Berman

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