Council Update: Micmac Name, Affordable Housing, Heritage Districts

Agenda November 17
Agenda November 24

Micmac Name:
Council accepted my motion to look at renaming all municipal streets, a park, and a transit terminal that use the word Micmac. In District 5, this would be Micmac Boulevard and the Micmac Transit Terminal. This is a discussion that has been simmering in Dartmouth for a while with periodic calls for change. The problem is Micmac is seen as an antiquated name by many Mi’kmaq. Not all Mi’kmaq have a problem with Micmac, and there was a good discussion last week in the press with Dan Paul, Rebecca Thomas, and Don Byrd presenting the different views on this issue. As Thomas explains, Mi’kmaq tends to be favoured by the younger generations, but many elders use Micmac. In light of the Cornwallis panel and concerns expressed by many Mi’kmaq, it’s time to properly look at our use of Micmac as a municipal name.

The Cornwallis Panel wasn’t just about Cornwallis. It also looked at how to restore and commemorate Mi’kmaq history in HRM. Recommendations 13 and 14 commit HRM to working with the Mi’kmaq community to increase the diversity of street signs in HRM and to explore opportunities to use the Mi’kmaq language, particularly in adjusting currently anglicized names back to their Mi’kmaq original. Looking at the use of Micmac on municipal street names very much stems from the important work of the panel and particularly recommendations 13 and 14.

In Dartmouth, Micmac is quite a common name. Besides the two streets, there is the mall, paddling club, tavern, and a dental office. The starting point for it all seems to be Lake Micmac (how Halifax and Hammonds Plains ended up with Micmac streets is another riddle). Lake Micmac was actually called Second Lake until 1922 when it was renamed as the result of a contest. David Jones has a post on his website all about the contest and the naming of Banook, Micmac, and Charles here.

It might be tempting to say what’s the big deal with Micmac? Isn’t having all this stuff named for the Mi’kmaq an honour? Can’t we just change the spelling from Micmac to Mi’kmaq? Maybe, but I think that’s a superficial assessment without considering the overall history. Canadian society in the 1920s when Lake Micmac came to be was still very much bent on assimilation. This is what the Superintendent General of Indian Affairs had to say at the time:

“I want to get rid of the Indian problem…..Our objective is to continue until there is not an Indian that has not been absorbed into the body politic, and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department…”

Duncan Campbell Scott, 1920

The 1920s were very much part of the era of assimilation, the most obvious manifestation of that being residential schools. This wasn’t a time where many were looking to honour or celebrate indigenous Canadians. Canada was bent on wiping out their culture.

Shubenacadie Residential School 1930-1967

Back in Dartmouth, the Committee for the naming contest emphasized the Mi’kmaq’s historic use of the Shubenacadie Lakes in choosing Lake Micmac. The choice has the feel of a romantic look back on the past by a society that saw little to no value in Canada’s actual living First Nations peoples, but it’s hard to say what the motivation was. People are complex and to some extent, we’re all products of our time. Historians might be able to shed some additional light on that question, but we also shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that all of these places had original Mi’kmaq names that have been erased from the landscape.

What we’re left with are street names that many Mi’kmaq today find inappropriate and very well may have come from a place of appropriation and romanticism rather than a real attempt to honour. There is a lot of deep and heavy work to do to make Truth and Reconciliation real. Being willing to reexamine history and what’s in a name, especially when it’s something that has been noted as objectionable, is a small part of that work.

While Council accepted my motion, I’m not sure where we go exactly from here. This is the start of a process. We have to do better than the 1920s and actually involve the Mi’kmaq in decisions about the use of their name. HRM will also need to engage with residents and businesses in the affected areas. That will take time so this is likely a multi-year endeavour. It’s important to note as well that HRM can only change the name of the streets, not private businesses, clubs, or the Lake. In the case of Micmac Boulevard, we also have to consider another marginalized group, Black Nova Scotians. Micmac Boulevard sits on top of land that was part of the historic Avenue settlement going back to the early 1800s. That history needs to be considered as well.

Whether we change some street names to Mi’kmaq, come up with new names entirely, or restore some lost Mi’kmaq place names is really an open question. More to come on this whole issue over the next few years.

Future home of Mi’kmaq Friendship Centre shelter and supportive housing

Affordable Housing:
It’s been a busy two weeks for affordable housing, with both funding for non-profits and the sale of municipal property coming before Council. The over $8,000,000 in funding for non-profits has come through HRM’s participation in the federal government’s Rapid Housing program. The program really lives up to its name. HRM had just a month to respond to the federal government’s invitation, which was quite challenging given that the municipality doesn’t operate housing directly. That’s a very different situation from many other cities across the country. As a result, HRM has little in the way of staff resources, and, of course, no pipeline of shovel-ready projects to put forward at times like this.

The only way for HRM to access the Rapid Housing program was to involve non-profits that do build and operate housing in HRM as partners. Several HRM planners had to drop everything to work on this and then several non-profits had to drop everything to quickly put together applications. It was a marathon effort delivered in a sprint timeline.

Despite the timing challenges, HRM received several submissions and what emerged as recommendations for Council to consider are three projects that will make a big difference to many lives. Council approved all three. The Mi’kmaq Native Friendship Centre will receive $2,878,400 to renovate a former halfway house at the corner of College and Carleton in Halifax to provide a 30 bed shelter, 10 room shared housing, and 7 one to two bedroom units. The Friendship Centre’s project is targeted towards homeless indigenous residents. The North End Community Health Association will receive $1,227,625 to renovate a vacant home on Maitland Street in Halifax to provide 10 units of shared housing aimed at homeless Black Nova Scotians. Both the Friendship Centre and North End Community Health Association projects will include program supports in hopes of transitioning residents to permanent housing. The third project will help another very vulnerable group in our community: women and children fleeing domestic violence. Adsum will receive $3,977,188 to expand their existing shelter in Lakeside to 25 units.

The result is will be over 50 new units, and new shelter beds to help some of our community’s most vulnerable residents. I’m so glad that HRM and the non-profits were able to rise to the occasion and make the federal government’s really unreasonable timelines work. This is really great news.

True North Crescent in Dartmouth North and vacant HRM property

The other housing project that Council was able to help advance was the Affordable Housing Association’s proposal to build townhouses on municipal property on True North Crescent in Dartmouth North. The property on True North was acquired by the former City of Dartmouth just before amalgamation for the purpose of developing affordable housing. Then amalgamation and the service exchange hit and suddenly the Province was the one providing housing. The property languished forgotten for years, until staff brought it forward as surplus to HRM’s needs. Rather than sell the property to whoever would pay the most, HRM opted to make the land available for affordable housing. The result was an offer from the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia, which is interested in developing townhouses on site. HRM’s contribution to the project was to sell the land for $1. Hopefully the Housing Association will be able to proceed soon.

Downtown Dartmouth’s newest heritage building, the Old Post Office. Photo CBC

Downtown Dartmouth Heritage District:
As part of the first phase of the Centre Plan, HRM identified a number of potential future heritage districts. In Dartmouth, the new potential districts include Downtown Dartmouth, Harbourview (Fairbanks/Shore Road area), and Five Corners. The Centre Plan identified six more on the Halifax side for a total of nine new districts. This is on top of the new Downtown Halifax District that staff are working on now.

The process for enacting a heritage district takes a few years and is quite involved. It will take HRM at the current pace, many, many years to complete all of the potential districts, which makes prioritizing efforts really important. The immediate priority is Downtown Halifax around Historic Properties, NASCAD, and Province House. What was before Council was to prioritize what comes next. I’m pleased to share that the next district in the queue will be Downtown Dartmouth. Since it’s the next priority on the list, it’s likely that work will get underway on the Downtown Dartmouth District within this current Council’s mandate.

Other:

  • Amended the regulations for sidewalk cafes to allow them to remain in place longer
  • Opted not to correct the name of Moosehead on the Eastern Shore to Moose Head after feedback from residents in the community indicated there is not enough support to proceed
  • Adopted a new administrative order allowing for less than market value leases for non-profit childcares in HRM buildings
  • Set the 2021 Council schedule and appointed Councillors to boards and committees
  • Made a series of minor street name changes (since it’s disconnected from the rest of Park Avenue, the stub of Park Avenue that serves the two HRM park and ride parking lots off Alderney Drive is now Flotilla Lane)
  • Entering into a density bonusing agreement for Killam’s new building at the corner of Hollis and Bishop (they’re burying the powerlines)
  • Approved a request by the Design Review Committee to improve the process around development appeals
  • Approved alterations to two heritage properties
  • Requested a staff report on amending our COVID procedures to potentially allow in person meetings again (this wouldn’t happen anytime soon, it’s more about adding the flexibility into the HRM policies for when the health situation, hopefully, improves)