On a trip back along Highway 17, I chanced upon Perretton Road, recently renamed from a certain unfortunately-common slur for Indigenous people. The new sign, unblemished by the lovely and not-at-all-chaotic weather of the Ottawa Valley, stood out next to the more-weathered Highway sign – which showed the old, unfortunate name.
This isn’t particularly unusual – replacing signs takes time, and the highway likely is the Ministry of Transportation’s job to replace rather than the Township. But it’s still startling that that road sign was replaced so quickly at all.
The meeting where the road sign’s new name was finalized also had another road, named after an unfortunate slur for the Eastern-European Romani people, was left the same, due to ‘no other name being decided upon.’ CAO Robert Trembley stated at that Council meeting that there were arguments claiming the word was not seen as a slur by some, to which he replied. “Amnesty International says that it is.” which always makes me laugh.
I’m not going into a huge rant about how offensive the words are or how bad it is that they’ve been this for so long – better people than I can do that, and changing it at all is a step in the right direction. I’m more concerned with the offending material being changed than being angry that it is not.
Road names have been something of a touchy subject in our little corner of the woods; Wren Drive’s new subdivision is a tree that I’m not even going to bother to spell, that isn’t even native to our region [and is considered invasive]. Ron Laronde posted a letter in the Whitewater News and on Facebook on November 18 protesting the name change for Bromley Street, named for a war veteran, which was to be changed because another Bromley Drive existed elsewhere in the Township [which they chose not the change shortly before I published it]. These road names matter to people, even though guys like me barely remember them and repeatedly go down the wrong ones.
It’s precisely this why people are so eager to change the names, as much as are to keep it. Indigenous people, wounded as they are by centuries of violent oppression, still suffer from such seemingly-minor things to this day, and recent events have given us all cause to reexamine and listen to these concerns. The names matter in what they represent, even when that is oppression and discrimination in the communities.
Perretton as the new name is a good solution. It is a name that reflects the history of the road, chosen by its residents, and will have the same strength of meaning as many other roads. Seeing how quickly we all adapt and accept the new name will be interesting.