Watson looks to rename Prince of Wales Bridge after Algonquin leader

Ottawa's Prince of Wales Bridge is slated for a major overhaul this year, and if Mayor Jim Watson has his way, the revamp will include a new name.

Mayor wants decommissioned rail crossing called Chief William Commanda Bridge as step toward reconciliation

Parliament Hill appears in the background as a cyclist crosses the closed Prince of Wales Bridge in May 2020. Mayor Jim Watson said on Wednesday he wants to see the bridge renamed after former Algonquin Chief William Commanda. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Ottawa's Prince of Wales Bridge is slated for a major overhaul this year, and if Mayor Jim Watson has his way, the revamp will include a new name.

The city plans to transform the 141-year-old decommissioned rail bridge west of LeBreton Flats into an active transportation corridor with space for pedestrians, cyclists and cross-country skiers to traverse the Ottawa River.

At council on Wednesday, Watson said he thinks it's a perfect time to rename the crossing as a symbolic gesture toward reconciliation. He was inspired to pursue the change after reading a column by a Carleton University journalism professor and frequent columnist.

Part of that rejuvenation can be an act of reconciliation.- Randy Boswell, professor and columnist

"I read Randy Boswell's column in the [Ottawa] Citizen attentively during the holidays, and I agree with him that this bridge crossing the Ottawa River, which has been deemed sacred by the Algonquin people for thousands of years, should bear an Indigenous name," said Watson.

When the bridge was completed in 1880, it was used to transport natural resources from Algonquin lands to the north, Watson said.

"That reality is part of Canada's dark colonial past, one that we must recognize if we want to engage in meaningful reconciliation with our Indigenous partners." 

Governor General Michaëlle Jean invests Algonquin Elder William Commanda as an Officer of the Order of Canada during a ceremony in Ottawa in November 2009. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Recognizing Commanda 'overdue'

Taking one of Boswell's suggestions, the mayor is proposing renaming the bridge after William Commanda, who served as chief of Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation from 1951 to 1970. Commanda died in 2011.

"He was an Algonquin elder, a spiritual leader, a promoter of environmental stewardship and a great bridge builder between our nations," said Watson, who added he has already sought support from partners in the Algonquin community.

Boswell said he's pleased Watson is proceeding with the idea.

"I actually do think recognition of [Commanda's] contributions are overdue in the city," he told CBC on Wednesday. "It's the right time because the bridge is about to undergo a rejuvenation, and part of that rejuvenation can be an act of reconciliation."

Royals get plenty of recognition

Boswell pointed out there are already many monuments, streets and other landmarks named after the Royal Family and British nobility in Ottawa that could use a rethink. 

"I would describe our commemorative landscape as significantly overrepresenting those people, and those people are not even close to representing what contemporary Canada is," he said.

The Prince of Wales Bridge was named after Queen Victoria's son who later became King Edward, already the namesake of a major street in Ottawa's downtown.

Watson's proposal now falls under the city's commemorative naming process, which includes a 60-day public consultation period, and gives city council final authority to approve the proposed new name. Watson said Wednesday, he hopes to reopen the bridge as the Chief William Commanda Bridge later this year or early next year.

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