Nova Scotia

Sydney street signs named after Edward Cornwallis taken down

Street signs on Cornwallis Street in Sydney, N.S., were removed on Monday. The street is named after Edward Cornwallis, a former governor of Nova Scotia and the controversial founder of Halifax. His statue was removed from a Halifax park two years ago.

Cornwallis issued scalping proclamation in which he offered cash bounty to anyone who killed a Mi'kmaw person

Cornwallis Street in Sydney on June 22, 2020, without a street sign after they were taken down by CBRM. (Brent Kelloway/CBC)

The street signs along Cornwallis Street in Sydney, N.S., were removed on Monday. 

The street is named after Edward Cornwallis, a governor of Nova Scotia who was a British military officer who founded Halifax in 1749. He issued a so-called scalping proclamation the same year, in which he offered a cash bounty to anyone who killed a Mi'kmaw person.

A statue of Cornwallis was removed from a Halifax park two years ago.

Danny Paul, a Mi'kmaw elder from Membertou First Nation, brought the issue of removing the sign up to Cape Breton Regional Police on Sunday and was prepared to take it down himself.

"I had my wrenches, I had my ladder and I had my WD-40 in case the bolts were rusted on," said Paul.

Paul said he wore a T-shirt specifically for his meeting that was related to incidents involving police and Indigenous people in New Brunswick, which said "Don't shoot, I don't have a weapon."

Before he decided to take action, Paul said he spoke with Grand Chief Norman Sylliboy to get his blessing to go out and get rid of the sign. 

The signs were removed a day after he had a discussion with the police.

'Gesture of good faith' 

"This is not a victory by any measure because if you have victory, then you have adversaries," said Paul. "I say this is an awakening and awareness that we've come to where we're able to voice concerns and reach reason."

Acting police Chief Robert Walsh says he recommended the Cape Breton Regional Municipality take down the street signs. He said in principle it was already being planned by CBRM to change the name of the street.

"It would be in everyone's best interest to remove the signs as a culturally respected measure of a gesture of good faith," said Walsh.

He said he made the recommendation in the interest of safety, even though there was no threat from those protesting the sign's removal. He also said there shouldn't be any safety issues with the street now having no signs.

Crews used a crane to lift the statue of Edward Cornwallis off its pedestal in 2017 from a Halifax park in 2018. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

"We've already mitigated that by reaching out to all of our police and emergency first responders to make them aware that the signs will temporarily be removed," said Walsh. "We're confident that the first responders in our community are very familiar with the street and know its location."

Membertou Chief Terry Paul said he's been fighting to get rid of the name Cornwallis for decades. 

"This issue has been with me since I realized who this monster was," said Paul.

Chief hopeful Mi'kmaw name considered

He's been in discussions about the removal of the name with CBRM, the Halifax Regional Municipality and the province for years. He even spoke with Halifax Mayor Mike Savage when it was decided the Cornwallis statue in Halifax's south end was removed back in 2018.

Chief Paul hopes the Mi'kmaq will be included in the discussion with CBRM on the renaming of the street. He said Donald Marshall Jr. and Ben Christmas are some of the Mi'kmaw people who should be the street's new namesake.

"I'm happy with either of those names or others that would commemorate the Mi'kmaq," said Terry Paul.

Danny Paul also suggested the street be named after Campy Crawford, a longtime Whitney Pier resident and the first Black municipal police officer east of Montreal, or Ray Paruch, a long-time CBRM councillor who recently died.

With files from CBC's Maritime Noon, Mainstreet Cape Breton and Tom Ayers