When speaking at Carleton yesterday, former Prime Minister Kim Campbell emphatically said, “Symbols are important.” She broached this with regards to a private member’s bill in the House of Commons considered this week on making the national anthem more gender neutral. I thoroughly agree and am now inspired to do my part to change a negative symbol associated with Carleton, namely and quixotically, our street address.
Carleton could choose any street on campus to use for its street address. University Drive would be an excellent choice, especially since it is visible to anybody driving from the airport to downtown Ottawa. While nerdy, Library Road would be another good choice. Or if we want to be spectator-sport-crazy, Raven Road would be an interesting choice that is short, sweet, and alliterative. But the choice of Colonel By Drive is a symbolic nightmare. Colonel John By was a military man who helped build the Rideau Canal that was supposed to help keep British supplies moving between Kingston and Montreal in the event that the American military invaded portions of the St. Lawrence River between the Thousand Islands and Cornwall.
Carleton is on unceded Algonquin territory. Carleton is at least trying to make a symbolic effort to respect the Algonquin peoples who share these lands with us. It is, however, utterly disrespectful using a street address named after someone who helped colonize these lands. Furthermore, the military rank ‘colonel’ has the same etymological root as the term ‘colonial’. The spelling is not a coincidence (see here). It would also not be advisable for Carleton to use the street address of Bronson Avenue. Erskine Henry Bronson was a politician and businessman who built the hydro-electric power plants at Chaudíere Falls, thereby desecrating an important Anishinaabe place, Asinabka. Given that we could pick any street address on campus, we might as well go for one that does not represent repressive colonial heritage. Symbols matter.