Controversial street names in Ottawa, according to you

From Gladstone Avenue, Cabot Street to Indian Road, CBC Ottawa asked which streets in your neighbourhood may need to be renamed. Here were your answers.

From Gladstone Avenue to Indian Road, residents submit names of concern

Khalil Yardon, who used to live on Gladstone Avenue, says the road's name reminds him of his family's painful ties to slavery in the former British Guiana. (Olivier Plante/CBC)

When Khalil Yardon heard Ottawa has no plans to rename Amherst Crescent — a street with the same name as a British general who advocated for the genocide of Indigenous people — he thought of another street that reminds him of his family's history of slavery: Gladstone Avenue.

Yardon lived on Gladstone Avenue, which runs through central Ottawa, when he moved from Guyana to Canada as a teenager in the 1970s.

"I didn't know who it was named after," said Yardon. "[Through] research, I found Gladstone Avenue was named after the son of the slave owner." 

The street was named after former U.K. prime minister William Ewart Gladstone — someone who supported slavery and fought for slave owners to be compensated after slavery was outlawed (he later changed his stance). His father, John Gladstone, was a slave owner who bought sugar plantations in the British Guiana — where Yardon's grandfather was a slave.

Yardon is one of several people who sent CBC Ottawa names of streets or landmarks they're concerned about, and want renamed. CBC Ottawa compiled a list and mapped them out below.

"I drive by Gladstone quite often and sometimes you stop in traffic and say wow ... 'Why is it named after him?' I mean that's not the only street," he said.

"It's something the city should look into and ask questions and do some research and if need be, change the name."

Gladstone Avenue was named after former U.K. prime minister William Ewart Gladstone. (Olivier Plante/CBC)

Witnessing a different Ottawa

Angela Tozer, a University of New Brunswick professor who specializes in modern Canadian history and settler colonialism, says place names in Canada come from "Europeanized" versions of Indigenous place names, places in Europe, and European individuals "because of their 'success' in colonialism."

"It is difficult to separate the individual from their historical context of colonialism and its many forms of violence in Canada," Tozer said.

Jaime Morse, who runs a walking tour sharing Indigenous history of downtown Ottawa, said she hopes monuments and streets "that are harmful" are renamed and taken down soon, so her children can witness a different Ottawa.

"I'm comfortable taking every one of them down, renaming them, because ... these stories are never going to go away. But they should be muted and the perspective should be shifted to other experiences in Canada."

When provided with the list of names, the City of Ottawa said it has not received requests to rename any of the streets or park names below. The city also noted no research has been undertaken of the street names or landmarks as it "requires significant effort," and that would only happen once a renaming application is submitted for a particular street or park.

Gladstone Avenue

According to an Ottawa Journal newspaper article in 1957 documenting the origins of street names in Ottawa, this street was named after former U.K. prime minister William Ewart Gladstone.

Gladstone belonged to a family that owned more than 2,000 slaves who worked on Caribbean plantations. He served 12 years as prime minister of the United Kingdom in the late 1800s and spoke against the abolition of slavery during his early years as an MP, then later admitted it was "the foulest crime."

Metcalfe Street

This street was named after Sir Charles Metcalfe, governor general between 1843 and 1845.

Tozer says Metcalfe was a part of a "sort of liberal 'reform' era in the Province of Canada" (roughly modern-day Quebec and Ontario) and in other parts of the British Empire. Those reforms centred around principles of colonization, the subjugation of Indigenous people, and aimed to appropriate Indigenous living spaces.

Metcalfe appointed Egerton Ryerson — known as the architect of residential schools — as chief superintendent of schools for Canada West in 1844.

Somerset Street

One resident submitted Somerset Street West and East saying they're concerned that one of Ottawa's core arteries is named after the 12th Duke of Somerset, who's never set foot in Canada. 

James Powell with the Historical Society of Ottawa confirmed the street was named after duke Edward Seymour but said he's not aware of any controversy attached to his name.

Goulburn Avenue

According to a 1927 book Ottawa, Past and Present, "Goulbourn Avenue" was named after Henry Goulburn, a British politician in the 19th century who‌ ‌was‌ ‌also‌ ‌the‌ ‌absentee‌ ‌owner‌ ‌of‌ ‌a plantation ‌in‌ ‌Jamaica and a notorious slave owner.‌ ‌(It's unclear why the name is misspelled in the book with an extra "o.")

In 2020, members of Ottawa's Black community backed up Coun. Scott Moffatt's bid to rename the Rideau-Goulbourn ward. The ward will be called Rideau-Jock by January 2022, which pays homage to the river that runs through the area.

There's also a road, school and museum in Stittsville named after Goulburn. 

Laurier Avenue

Laurier Avenue is named after Sir Wilfrid Laurier, who was prime minister of Canada from 1896 to 1911. He introduced a $100 Chinese head tax in 1900. In 1911, he signed an order-in-council banning Black immigrants to Canada for one year. The order did not come into law.

Powell says Laurier has "largely gone under the renaming radar so far." 

There's also Sir Wilfrid Laurier Secondary School in Orléans, and Sir Wilfrid Laurier Park on Chapel Street downtown.

Laurier Avenue is named after Sir Wilfrid Laurier, prime minister of Canada from 1896 to 1911. (Olivier Plante/CBC)

Russell Avenue and road

According to Ottawa, Past and Present, Russell Avenue is named "probably after a family of that name, but may be after Lord John Russell." He was the secretary for war and the colonies from 1839 to 1841 and prime minister of the U.K.

However, the eastern Ontario township Russell is named after Peter Russell — an 18th century slave owner and trader and high-ranking administrator in the pre-Confederation government of Upper Canada.

There's also Russell Road, which is a long artery that runs through eastern Ontario starting in Ottawa and ending in Clarence-Rockland.

De La Salle High School

It's unclear where the origins of the school's name came from and officials did not respond to CBC's request.

However, Powell says it is likely named after Jean-Baptiste de La Salle, the founder of the institute Brothers of the Christian Schools, which is credited for founding the first Catholic schools in France, then worldwide. 

"It's likely his name has been tainted by sexual abuse scandals involving clergy," he said.

Ryerson Avenue

Egerton Ryerson is considered one of the primary architects of Canada's residential school system. He was a 19th-century methodist minister and educator who was appointed as the superintendent of education for Canada West.

Ryerson Avenue in the city's Barrhaven suburb is a short residential street, only about 150 metres long.

A statue of Egerton Ryerson lies on the grounds of Ryerson University that bears his name after being toppled on June 6, 2021. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Amherst Crescent

Former British general Sir Jeffrey Amherst advocated for the use of smallpox-infested blankets to kill Indigenous people in the 18th century.

The City of Ottawa told CBC there are no plans to rename Amherst Crescent because no one officially requested it yet. It also said its records indicate there's no proof it was named after the controversial figure.

According to a section on the origins of Ottawa street names in Ottawa, Past and Present, city spots named Amherst is named after Jeffrey Amherst.

Apache Crescent & Commanche Drive

Apache Crescent and Commanche Drive are adjacent streets in Nepean. 

Both streets appear to take on names after Native American tribes. Apache Indians are said to be nomadic, and migrated to southwest U.S. from parts of Alaska and Canada.

The Comanche Indians (spelled with one m) had territories in the southern Great Plains in the 18th and 19th centuries, and were powerful and known to have displaced other tribes like the Apache.

Morse, owner of Indigenous Walks and an Indigenous studies educator, says these two street names have been around for at least 21 years since she's been in Ottawa. 

She says these groups were romanticized and people often don't know the difference between Indigenous tribes.

"I'd be curious to know who [named the streets] and why those were ... named that way," she said. "If they were [named] by Indigenous people ... then is there a history there we don't know about that we should know about?" 

There's also Navaho Drive near Algonquin College, which shares a name with another Native American tribe, she noted. However, Morse says these streets shouldn't be the first on the city's list to be renamed.

Indian Road

Indian Road is about 1.5 kilometres away from Apache Crescent and Commanche Drive in Nepean. There's another Indian Road east of Pembroke, Ont., and Indian River is located outside Almonte, Ont.

The term Indian, though still used in the U.S., is used less in Canada to refer to First Nations and Indigenous people.

"Indigenous people were never Indian," said Morse, noting the term is outdated.

However, she knows someone who is Indigenous with the last name Indian, and explained how the term is still used among some Indigenous people "within the comfort and the safety and the privacy of our own community." 

"There's a place for the word in that sense ... but at the same time, as an educator, I care because when we're asking and expecting people not to say the word, yet we still have it in our constitution, it sends mixed messages."

Morse said she's also curious about the naming of Bannock Crescent in Kanata.

Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway and more

Sir John A. Macdonald's name is scattered across Ottawa as in many other jurisdictions, says University of Ottawa historian and professor Dan Rück.

"When [Macdonald] was prime minister, he was the only one using the word 'Aryan' in the House of Commons. He wanted to create a specifically Aryan white supremacist nation. So that's part of our heritage as Canadians," said Rück, who teaches settler colonial studies and has a special interest in place names. "I want us to face that."

Macdonald, elected as Canada's first prime minister in 1867, enforced policies that starved Indigenous people to force them from their land, outlawed Indigenous ceremonies and centralized and expanded a residential school system.

Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway, formerly known as the Ottawa River Parkway until 2012, stretches west along the Ottawa River from downtown and is overseen by the National Capital Commission. Councillors called for the federal government to rename it earlier this year. The trail alongside the parkway was renamed Kichi Sibi earlier this month.

This mural of John A. Macdonald sits along a walking pathway between Wilbrod Street and Laurier Avenue. (Olivia Robinson/CBC)

Parks, a bridge, the airport and buildings bear his surname in the capital, and a mural of Macdonald sits along a walking pathway between Wilbrod Street and Laurier Avenue.

Sir John A Pub on Elgin Street is still operating under the former prime minister's name.

Columbus Avenue

Like several other streets, cities and even a province, Columbus Avenue in Ottawa is likely named after Christopher Columbus — the Italian explorer widely associated with the beginnings of the violent colonization of the Americas. Columbus first used the word "Indian" to describe Indigenous people in North America because he thought he had reached the East Indies.


Cabot Street

Powell says Columbus is deemed more important in the U.S. than in Canada, and suggests John Cabot is more relevant as he landed in what later becomes Newfoundland in 1497. Cabot was an Italian explorer whose exploration eventually paved way for England's colonization of Canada.

"One could argue that Cabot played an analogous role for Canada as Columbus did for the U.S.," he said. "There is a Cabot Street in Ottawa but I'm not aware of any opposition to the name."

Booth Street

According to a 1957 article in the Ottawa Journal, Booth Street was named after John Rudolphus Booth — someone the newspaper pegged as "Ottawa lumber king." 

Rück said lumber barons, who "devastated the landscape," have cleared entire landscapes of ancient forests. Some other notable lumber barons include Henry Bronson (who Bronson Avenue is named after), Philemon Wright (there's a Wright street in Ottawa and a school in Gatineau is named after him), and E.B. Eddy (there's Eddy Street in Gatineau).

"What a tragedy and for us to continue to celebrate those men who were willing to do anything to make their money is really sad," said Rück.

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