Black leaders back councillor's bid to change ward's name
Rideau-Goulbourn named after British politician who owned hundreds of slaves, Coun. Scott Moffatt discovered
Members of Ottawa's Black community are lauding Rideau-Goulbourn Coun. Scott Moffatt's bid to rename the rural ward after he learned it's named in part after a British politician who owned hundreds of slaves.
"I have to applaud him ... for having the conscience," said Sarah Onyango, a board member with Black History Ottawa.
"I really praise the councillor for going that step further in wanting to change the name so that the place he represents is identified with something more positive."
We support it and realize that it takes a lot of courage.- Robin Browne, 613-819 Black Hub
Moffatt, a history enthusiast who holds a degree in the subject from Carleton University, has been digging into the stories behind the names of local roads, parks and neighbourhoods in Ward 21, and sharing them on Scott Moffatt's Twenty One Podcast.
In an episode titled A Troubling Discovery Calls for a Name Change in Rideau-Goulbourn, posted Oct. 31, Moffatt told listeners about the disturbing past of Henry Goulburn (1784-1856), a British statesman and senior cabinet minister who was also the absentee owner of "one of the worst" plantations in Jamaica. (It's not immediately clear why the former Goulbourn Township had a different spelling than its namesake.)
"We're talking about an individual who was a known slave owner at the time," said Moffatt.
Gouburn never visited the plantation, but it gained notoriety in Britain for the especially cruel treatment of its slaves. Moffatt said Goulburn lost a re-election bid because of the disapproval of his constituents.
"This was a problem for him 200 years ago," Moffatt said. "It wasn't OK then, and it certainly isn't OK now."
'A past that they'd rather not know'
Still, Moffatt said not everyone in the ward is pleased that he's unearthed this aspect of its history.
"It was a past that they'd rather not know," he said.
Moffatt has asked residents to come up with alternatives to commemorating Goulburn, who never set foot in Canada, either. But the councillor has decided against holding formal public consultations, drawing criticism from both sides of the debate.
Robin Browne, co-founder of the advocacy group 613-819 Black Hub, believes the time is right for a shameful wrong to be corrected.
"We support it and realize that it takes a lot of courage," Browne said.
"I would suggest probably part of the reason this is happening is because of the moment we're in in history with the death of George Floyd," Browne said, referring to the Black man whose killing by police in Minneapolis in May sparked protests around the world, including here in Ottawa.
Browne agrees with Moffatt that there's no need for formal public consultations about the name change.
"Let's say they found out that the town was named after a former Nazi. Would they have a public conversation?" he asked. "I don't think so, and that's the same thing here."
Onyango disagrees, and believes that no matter how divisive, the issue deserves and demands a public reckoning.
"Instances like this are teaching moments," she said. "Maybe some [residents] don't know any people that look like me, and have never known a family whose family history involves enslaved African people."
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.