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  • Writer's pictureDouglas W. Judson

Resolution seeks public process to rename Colonization Road

Updated: Nov 10, 2020

Colonization Road could provide a new path to reconciliation in Fort Frances.

Today a resolution was introduced by Councillor Douglas Judson that could start a process to rename the prominent local road with input from the public. The resolution sets out numerous historical and legal authorities tracing the roots of colonization in the community and of colonization roads. Its recitals conclude that the ideology of colonization should not be commemorated by the municipality, and that naming local facilities or streets for colonization is inconsistent with the community's modern identity and its aspirations for the future. Colonization is defined as the action or process of settling among and establishing control over the Indigenous people of an area. The concept is intertwined with the widely-discredited Doctrine of Discovery and other destructive and racist law and policy, such as the former residential school system. Colonization roads date back to 1853, when they were built to give settlers access to colonized lands. The roads were transferred to Ontario municipalities in 1913. The ones which are named for colonization itself stand as an offensive symbol of Canada's colonial history. Judson's resolution draws inspiration from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s call to action for municipal governments to “repudiate concepts used to justify European sovereignty over Indigenous peoples and lands”. The document also quotes recent guidance from the Ontario Human Rights Commission about municipalities’ non-discrimination obligations when it comes to municipal names and images, as well as the town’s own specific commitment to reconciliation, which was set out in a landmark declaration it made with local First Nation communities in May 2019. The resolution follows recent efforts in Kenora, Dryden, and elsewhere to remove the name “colonization” from local roads. Importantly, the Fort Frances resolution does not prescribe a new name for Colonization Road. Instead, if adopted, it will create an ad-hoc committee of council to design and implement a process to solicit public suggestions for a new name that is consistent with the themes of reconciliation, the TRC calls to action, and the nation-to-nation relationship set out in Treaty #3. The resolution contemplates that separate names may be recommended for the eastern and western portions of Colonization Road, which are not connected. The effort to foster local dialogue on colonization and rename Colonization Road enjoys the support of numerous community leaders and partners from Indigenous government, labour, education, academia, law, and local social services (see quotes below). The resolution is expected to be put to a vote at council’s meeting on Monday, November 23. If the resolution is adopted in its current form, a new name for Colonization Road will likely be selected in 2021 and installed within the current term of council. Panel Discussion Planned In support of the effort to rename Colonization Road and facilitate community dialogue and participation, an online panel discussion has been planned. "Colonization in Context" is slated for Wednesday, November 25 from 6:30 to 8:00 PM (Central), in which community members can hear perspectives on the need to reconsider names like ‘colonization’ as part of the broader journey of reconciliation. The panel will be live-streamed on Facebook due to the need for social distancing. Community members are invited to write questions or reactions in the comments section. Event information is available at The panelists will be:

  • Lloyd Napish, a councillor with Migisi Sahgaigan (Eagle Lake) First Nation who is part of the effort to rename Colonization Avenue in Dryden;

  • JoAnne Formanek Gustafson, a local educator;

  • Jeffrey Denis, a professor of sociology at McMaster University, whose doctoral thesis explored settler-Indigenous history and relationships in the Rainy River District; and

  • A local Indigenous youth and an elder of a local First Nation.

A recording of the panel will be made available online for those who can’t participate on November 25. ### Contact: Douglas W. Judson Phone: 807-861-3684 Email: Background:

• A copy of the proposed resolution can be read in full at

Call to action 47 from the TRC’s 2015 report states: “We call upon federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to repudiate concepts used to justify European sovereignty over Indigenous peoples and lands, such as the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius, and to reform those laws, government policies, and litigation strategies that continue to rely on such concepts.”

• In 2016, Fort Frances’ Colonization Road was featured in the documentary Colonization Road, which explored the destructive legacy of colonization, with a focus on Northwestern Ontario and the Treaty #3 region.

• On May 1, 2019, the Town of Fort Frances entered into a Joint Declaration of Intent and Friendship with the Agency One First Nation communities of Couchiching, Nigigoonsiminikaaning, Mitaanjigamiing, and Naicatchewenin. The declaration expressed the Town’s commitment to the journey of reconciliation. Fort Frances’ town council started opening its meetings with a territorial acknowledgment in 2020.

• On May 13, 2019, the Ontario Human Rights Commission wrote to Ontario municipalities to remind them that as service providers, they have obligations under the Human Rights Code, and as such, municipal names, words, and images that degrade people because of their ancestry, race, colour, ethnic origin, or other grounds may amount to a denial of service on the basis of a Code-protected ground.

• The City of Kenora has renamed its Colonization Road, and the City of Dryden has embarked on a process to rename its Colonization Avenue. Other municipalities, such as the Rural Municipality of St. Clements, Manitoba, have done the same.

• In August 2020, community members in Dryden released a YouTube video outlining their concerns about the name of Colonization Avenue and addressing some common questions.

• The TRC report documents the links between Indian residential schools and the larger scheme of colonization. The Fort Frances area was home to a residential school that was operated by the Catholic Church from 1906 to 1974. The site is near the eastern terminus of Colonization Road East.

• A map of Colonization Road in Fort Frances is available here. The eastern and western segments are not connected. The road is aligned with portions of Highway 11 in the east and Highway 602 in the west.

• Reports produced by town administration for the previous Council in September and October 2017 specify that there is no fee charged by Service Canada or Service Ontario for changes arising from updates to municipal addressing. In addition, the reports specify that the Regional Emergency Command Centre, Bell, and Emergency Response did not anticipate any fees for the municipality if a road name were changed. The Town also determined that there was no foreseeable cost or fee to a property owner as a result of the municipality changing a street name. The only cost identified by Town administration was an estimated $2,600 to replace 13 road signs.

Quotes: “Fort Frances is a community in transition – socially, economically, and demographically. We can take pride in our achievements while reconciling with our past. We also acknowledge that our future depends on being inclusive, and renewing the founding nation-to-nation relationship that made this community possible. Our discussion about Colonization Road is about more than a street sign. It is about the next step in our path forward. This resolution seeks to create space for a dialogue about the type of community we have been, but also the type we want to become.” Douglas W. Judson Councillor, Town of Fort Frances “We see this situation in many towns and cities where there are place names that still honour the colonial legacy in an age of supposed reconciliation. Although many may ask what difference a name or a phrase may make and suggest they are merely words, I have to wonder if they view their words of reconciliation with the same level of indifference. With this in mind, it is very difficult to believe reconciliatory promises and requests of cooperation when there has not been basic efforts to address the colonial legacy present in the region. Until our partners take the small steps of addressing issues such as these, it may be difficult – if not impossible – to progress to a point where we may begin coming together to address the larger problems we face moving forward.” Ogichidaa Francis Kavanaugh Grand Chief, Grand Council Treaty #3 “The renaming of Colonization Road is an act of good faith by town leadership and is an evolution of the social responsibility question in front of Canada, Ontario and ultimately, Fort Frances. The renaming of the road marks a renewed effort to live up to the promise made through treaty in our homelands – a good and just place shared by all.” Ryan McMahon CEO/Chief Creative Producer, Makoons Media Group “I am pleased to hear the town considering this step. Those things we value – like equality and social justice – require continual forward momentum that takes effort. Although there was much wrong in our shared past that cannot be righted, residential schools for example, other mistakes can be. The word ‘colonization’ cannot be viewed favourably by those who lived here for thousands of years. Let’s replace it with a name that gives representation to those who loved this land first.” Sherry George Former Curator, Fort Frances Museum “It is definitely long overdue, and it would be a positive move on behalf of council to do this.” Brian Perrault, Janice Henderson, Will Windigo, and Wayne Smith Chiefs of Couchiching, Mitaanjigamiing, Nigigoonsiminikaaning, and Naicatchewenin “Street names like Colonization Road are a stark reminder of the brutal history of land theft, broken treaty promises, residential schools, and violence against Indigenous peoples. They are a reminder of the colonial policies, practices, and injustices that are still with us today. Changing such names and taking the guidance of local Indigenous communities in renaming them would be an important step in repairing relationships and moving towards reconciliation.” Jeffrey Denis Associate Professor of Sociology, McMaster University Author of Canada at a Crossroads: Boundaries, Bridges, and Laissez-Faire Racism in Indigenous-Settler Relations (based on local research) “Is ‘colonization’ just an innocent name or is there more to it? The Oxford Dictionary defines colonization as ‘the action or process of settling among and establishing control over the Indigenous people of an area.’ Does a street sign say something about our history or about our present? If so, what? The name might have made sense to our ancestors in a different time, but if we want to go forward being respectful of our friends and neighbours, it’s long past time for an update.” Shaun Loney Author and Social Enterprise Developer “Language matters. We have yet to truly acknowledge the harm done just down the road from ‘Colonization Road’ at the St. Margaret’s Indian Residential School. I think it’s time that the mainstream listen to the voices that are asking us to see ‘colonization’ as a process that harmed many people, and to use this as an opportunity to work toward a more positive future relationship.” JoAnne Formanek Gustafson Educator “We talk about a commitment to reconciliation. This is an opportunity to take action and to demonstrate our belief in that commitment, in a real and concrete way, as a community.” Trudy McCormick Executive Director, Northwest Community Legal Clinic (See the NCLC's reconciliation commitments here)

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