New policy for naming, renaming Ottawa's streets and parks nears approval

The city is one step away from a new policy for naming and renaming facilities, parks and streets, as it aims to commemorate a more diverse range of Ottawans without having to meet targets or quotas.

Dan Chenier, the city's general manager of recreation, cultural and facility services, said a new working group would select applications from the public that "represent the community in a more balanced way."

Council's community services committee endorsed the policy on Wednesday, and it will go to full council for final approval next month.

Rideau-Rockcliffe Coun. Rawlson King called it "a path to addressing historical inequalities."

If passed, the new policy would put more emphasis on recognizing local Ottawans, while prioritizing inclusion and "equitable representation of communities and cultures" along with consultation with Indigenous groups.

"To ensure equality and inclusivity in the future, the policy states that names received from the Anishinabe Algonquin Host Nation, and those names representing equity-denied groups will be prioritized for review," according to a staff report on the policy.

Those groups include women and newcomers, as well as racialized, francophone and LGBTQ people, it says.

Chenier said the working group would review applications to make sure they don't honour people who could bring disgrace on the city.

"What we want to avoid is situations where the city's reputation or the reputation of a facility was harmed by an association that doesn't reflect city values," he said.

The policy explicitly rules out names that are "discriminatory or derogatory of race, colour, ethnic origin, gender identity or expression, sex, sexual orientation, faith, political affiliation, disability, or other social factors."

Renaming 'not the only solution' for controversial names

Somerset Coun. Ariel Troster asked if residents could use the policy to object to an existing name.

Chenier explained that they can propose renaming it to something else through essentially the same process. He said the working group would assess the merits of such an application by looking at "the facts of the situation" to make "evidence-based decisions" based on historical research.

"We will ask the applicant to outline what their concern is, and then we will do research and debate what our findings are," he said.

Chenier said he's well aware that figures associated with residential schools or slavery are likely to come forward. He said he can't yet predict precisely what the outcome would be in such cases.

"We don't have the experience yet to see, because renaming is not the only solution," he said. "Explaining, putting context are also other options that our committee may recommend. So it's too early to tell."

Troster asked why the city doesn't proactively seek out offensive or outdated names across Ottawa.

"We've seen a wave of protests that have evolved all over the country and internationally, toppling monuments, changing names," she said. "There were incredible actions to rename what is now the Kichi Zībī Mīkan."

Chenier said the policy doesn't go that far, and would instead rely on applications from the community.

A vehicle travels along the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway in Ottawa June 2, 2021.
In 2023, the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway was renamed Kichi Zībī Mīkan by the National Capital Commission. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Group wants targets for gender parity

Delegates from a group called Ottawa Distinguished Women told councillors the policy doesn't go far enough on another score, since it doesn't include targets to correct the current imbalance in naming.

"We believe the policy requires even more commitment," said Lee Farnworth. "We believe it should include targets. Fifty per cent of women should equal 50 per cent of all commemorations."

Farnworth said fewer than 10 per cent of all city facilities, parks and streets are named after women, though Chenier said the number is actually around 22 per cent.

According to Farnworth, Ottawa Distinguished Women has a list of women of merit long enough to help the city meet a 50 per cent target.

Bay ward Coun. Theresa Kavanagh asked Chenier to ensure that the membership of the working group, at least, has parity between men and women.

The working group wouldn't be the final word on renaming. For minor assets, like baseball diamonds or outdoor rinks, Chenier would have a key role and also seek the approval of the local councillor and community associations.

For major assets, like large parks, theatres and indoor pools, council would get the final word.