Nova Scotia

Most Haligonians say Edward Cornwallis's name should stay, survey suggests

58 per cent of respondents say the founder's name should not be removed from public infrastructure, while 31 per cent say it should.
A new phone survey suggests the majority of Haligonians do not agree that Cornwallis's name should be removed from public infrastructure such as parks and street signs. (Canadian Press)

A new survey suggests that the majority of Haligonians believe Edward Cornwallis's name should remain on public parks, buildings and street signs.

The survey results, released Tuesday by Corporate Research Associates, showed 58 per cent of respondents "mostly" or "completely" disagreed that Cornwallis's name should be removed, while 31 per cent "mostly" or "completely" agreed that it should be removed.

Edward Cornwallis founded Halifax in 1749, and later that year offered a bounty for the scalps of Mi'kmaq people. When the bounty proved ineffective, he increased it two years later.

Public debate

Over the past few years, Nova Scotians have discussed whether it is appropriate to keep Cornwallis's name on buildings, streets and schools.

In 2011, the Halifax Regional School Board voted unanimously to rename Cornwallis Junior High, changing it to Halifax Central Junior High School. In 2015, Premier Stephen McNeil had signs for the Cornwallis River in the Annapolis Valley removed.

The Halifax Regional School Board voted to change the name of Cornwallis Junior High School in 2011. (CBC)

And in March, the Cornwallis Street Baptist Church decided to change its name, but has not yet settled on a new one. Also that month, the Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre asked the city of Halifax to rename Cornwallis Street.

In April, Halifax Regional Council voted to create a panel to advise the municipality on public spaces and monuments named after Cornwallis. A similar motion had been defeated in 2016.

Surprising results

Don Mills, the chairman and CEO of Corporate Research Associates, said his firm's survey results may surprise some people given the media coverage of the issue.

"Quite often the silent majority is not represented in these kinds of debate," he said. "In fact, it's almost two to one against removing his name."

Market researcher Don Mills said the survey results may surprise some who have been following the Cornwallis debate. (CBC)

Men and older residents were more likely than women and younger residents to disagree that Cornwallis's name should be removed. The gender and age breakdown of respondents — as well the proportion of cellphone and landline users — was representative of the broader population, Mills said.

The phone survey was conducted by CRA between April 20 and May 6, 2017. Four hundred residents in the Census Metropolitan Area of Halifax who were 18 years old or older were surveyed, and the margin of sampling error is 4.9 percentage points with a 95 per cent confidence level.

'Silenced minority'

Rebecca Thomas, Halifax's poet laureate, cautions that the opinion of the majority is not always a good thing for the minority population.

"There's the silent majority, but then there's the silenced minority," said Thomas, who is Mi'kmaq.

"Majority rules has done a lot of damage in society when you come from a marginalized community. So when you see that the majority of people don't think that Cornwallis should be removed, it doesn't take into account the social impacts of that.

"What kind of damage is that doing?"

Halifax's poet laureate, Rebecca Thomas, says she is disappointed that so many people want to keep Cornwallis's name, but she's happy the number wasn't even higher. (Robert Short/CBC)

Although Thomas is disappointed that the majority of respondents want to keep Cornwallis's name, she said she was pleasantly surprised that the number wasn't even higher. And perhaps if the same poll is done in 10 years, sentiment will have shifted, she said.

"It's a matter of time," she said.

"You look at all kind of social movements throughout history and it takes time. I'm pretty sure not everyone was thrilled that women got the vote, but it's a good thing that it happened."

About the poll

The survey question: There has been considerable debate regarding how Halifax honours its controversial founder Edward Cornwallis. Do you completely agree, mostly agree, mostly disagree or completely disagree that his name should be removed from public infrastructure such as parks, buildings and street signs?

  • 34% completely disagree
  • 24% mostly disagree
  • 18% mostly agree
  • 13% completely agree
  • 7% don't know/no answer
  • 4% neither agree nor disagree