'Do the right thing': Tribal chief, Saskatoon mayor move to rename John A. Macdonald Road

Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Mark Arcand says renaming the road would help people heal from the effects of Canada's residential school system.

'It is time to honour the truths that residential school survivors have shared,' Mayor Charlie Clark says

Mayor Charlie Clark and Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Mark Arcand sign memo of understanding on a different project back in 2017. (CBC)

Saskatoon's mayor says the city will take steps toward renaming John A. Macdonald Road following a call for change from the Saskatoon Tribal Council (STC). 

"It is time to honour the truths that residential school survivors have shared about the impacts of these schools through generations," Mayor Charlie Clark said in a statement released Thursday. 

On Wednesday, STC Tribal Chief Mark Arcand announced he was calling on the city to make the name change and even suggested a potential replacement: Reconciliation Road. 

John A. Macdonald Road runs through the city's Confederation Park neighbourhood, in the ward represented by newcomer David Kirton.

The street is named after Canada's first prime minister, who also presided over the establishment of the residential school system, under which thousands of Indigenous children were forced from their homes and families and subjected to various forms of neglect and abuse.

Arcand reiterated his call for the street name change during a news conference held Thursday in front of wâhkôhtowin School, which had been previously named Confederation Park School. 

The proposal comes roughly two weeks after B.C.'s Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation announced a preliminary finding of as many as 215 children's remains at an unmarked burial site at the Kamloops Indian Residential School site. 

A red dress in commemoration of missing and murdered Indigenous women and children, and a framed portrait of the number 215 referencing the numbers of children's remains believed found at the site the Kamloops Indian Residential School in B.C., adorn the front stoop of a home on Avenue M S in Saskatoon on Thursday. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

Arcand drew a contrast between residential schools, which discouraged students from speaking their Indigenous languages, and wâhkôhtowin School.

"This school is teaching our children language, culture, identity that was taken away from our people when they attended residential schools under the leadership of John A. Macdonald," Arcand said. "He was instrumental in creating residential schools that, to this day, have affected our people in a negative way."

Many in Arcand's family, from great-great-grandparents to aunts and uncles, attended residential schools, Arcand said.

"We never talked about that," he said in an interview with CBC News. "Because it's hard to listen to your family talk about this kind of stuff. And when you want to find out things, you know when to push and when not to push through. And that's a subject I never pushed because it's like opening up a wound and it's bleeding again."

Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Mark Arcand is calling on the City of Saskatoon to rename John A. Macdonald Road as Reconciliation Road to help people heal from the effects of Canada's residential school system. (Saskatoon Tribal Council)

Arcand challenged Clark and city councillors to announce an emergency meeting to get the ball rolling on the street name change. 

Soon after, Clark and Kirton—who is Métis—released a statement promising to do so. 

"I still continue on a personal journey to understand how the residential school system affected my family," Kirton said in the statement. "We cannot hope to achieve reconciliation without taking such actions."

The Confederation Park Community Association also supports the name change, according to the statement. 

"Other requests for John A. Macdonald Road to be renamed have been received by the city's naming committee," the statement read. "This proposed name change is the first in a process that is already underway with the city's naming committee."

City councillors will receive a report with potential new street names in September. The resulting process will include public consultation, including outreach to residential school survivors. 

Arcand said he means no disrespect to anybody and is not trying to change history. 

"I'm trying to correct the wrong and do the right thing," he said. 

The Saskatoon Tribal Council recently operated a COVID-19 vaccine clinic that was open to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous residents. A total of 13,200 doses were administered, more than half of which went to non-Indigenous people, Arcand said. 

"The gratefulness of non-Indigenous people has been tremendous, thankful for getting their vaccine so we can get back to normal, and that's how we're changing a system as Indigenous organizations," he said. 

"Now we're calling upon the city and the residents of Saskatoon and the people of Saskatchewan to continue that work with Indigenous people. Let's work together side by side. Changing this name is the right thing to do."

Earlier this year, after a 7-4 city council vote, the City of Regina removed a John A. Macdonald statue from that city's Victoria Park.


  • A previous version of this story stated that wâhkôhtowin School had been previously named John A. Macdonald School. In fact, it was previously named Confederation Park School.
    Jun 10, 2021 9:28 AM CT


Guy Quenneville

Reporter at CBC Saskatoon

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