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Toronto gets some of its first aboriginally named streets

This citywide lane-naming project is turning out to be more significant than it seemed at first.

For the most part, downtown streets were named ages ago, by people whose priorities and frame of reference were often quite different from ours. Two major aboriginal roads were kept as Toronto developed, for instance, but named for an ale Etonian buddy of John Simcoe’s who was an expert on Roman roads (George Yonge) and a house that was named for an army buddy of the guy who built it just north of Bathurst (Major Davenport).

But these lanes are all about us, and a good number of them are looking to redress some of the oversights of those original street namings. Like Wabenose and Chechalk lanes in the Church Wellesley neighbourhood, named a week ago Friday.

When Connie Langille, chair of the Church Wellesley Neighbourhood Association’s heritage committee, was given the task of coming up with names for local laneways, she made a call.

“I contacted Carolyn King, past chief of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nations, for name proposals and permission,” she says. “Each request needed the approval of their council.  Wabenose and Chechalk were the names submitted. Garry Sault, an elder, kindly explained the meaning of the names. Wabenose means the one that greets the morning, as when you lift your face to the sun for morning prayers. Chechalk is of the Crane clan. They spread the word of the people, tell the stories.”

Both men were signatories of the Toronto Purchase, by which the British acquired the land Toronto is built on. It turned into a contentious claim that was finally settled in 2010 for $145 million.

Until this month, there were a total of five streets named for aboriginal people, according to Brian Hall with the city's engineering services: Doctor O Lane; Oskenonton Lane; Sloping Sky Mews; Tom Longboat Lane; and Longboat Avenue. There are also 19 streets named more generally along aboriginal themes, but these include one ceremonial sname for part of Lower Jarvis (Warriors Way), and seven that include the word "Indian."

A closer look at the signs reveals something no other named lanes have.

“The banner above the names is very significant,” Langille says. “Banners are reserved for districts, etc. only. The first answer I heard to my inquiry was ‘No’.  Ultimately to have the banner read ‘Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation’ I needed to request the exception and have it approved at city council.”

There aren’t many streets or lanes with aboriginal names in this town, and locals were querulous.

“Neighbours were a little unsure at first,” Langille says. “Why native names? How do you pronounce them? But after getting a brief history, they are proud to have our lanes named after two great figures in history.”

Another lane in the district have been named for architect Macy Dubois, and one in the offing will be named Biscuit Lane for Brown’s Bakery, which used to be on the associations strip of Yonge, where Mr Christie first started baking cookies.

“Every lane we name adds to the stories of our neighbourhood. People are connected by the telling of the stories,” Langille says. “It is good.”

Langille also works at Oolagen Community Services, itself re-named two years ago for the Cree term for "where the flowers grow."

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Connie Langille
Photo: Heritage Toronto
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