Last week, Winnipeg’s city councillors skated blithely across the latest patch of thin ice threatening the treacherous pond of Canadian bilingualism. Brooms in hand, they brushed aside eight decidedly English-sounding street names for a new subdivision in suburban St. Norbert and substituted eight names reflecting the area’s French heritage. Oakhill became Grandmont, Pineview became Bérard, Portwood Place is now Dubois—and the threatened battle of the plains of St. Norbert, they hope, is over.
One of Manitoba’s first settlements, St. Norbert grew up around the French Trappist monastery, Our Lady of the Prairies. Today a Winnipeg suburb of 3,500 residents, it prides itself on being a co-operative blend of the descendants of its original French settlers and the Anglais who have drifted in over the years. Many English-speaking parents have their offspring enrolled in French immersion courses while others receive g their education in a café au lait of ; French and English. But suddenly last £ June the embarrassing problem of r
naming some new streets threatened that entente cordiale. Not a real French-English quarrel, insist even the loudest proponents on both sides—more a case of historic preservation vs. tax dollars.
Nobody had paid much attention three years ago when developer Gordon Wiswell announced a new subdivision for St. Norbert. It was to be called Richmond Lakes, 600 houses on 13 new streets having rather wooden-sounding names like Oakcreek, Allenwood and Royal Oak Bay. True, St. Norbert has
traditionally named its streets after pioneers, usually French. But, argued Wiswell when the fuss started, “the names are easy to say and spell and easy to remember. From a marketing point of view they’re just fine.” And he did name one street Péloquin Bay in honor of the gentleman of French descent who sold him the land.
It was the Fort Garry Historical Society that stepped in last spring with a list of alternatives intended to better reflect the area’s history—and the street fight was on. “Save St. Norbert” shouted the lapel buttons worn by 65 people who signed a petition in favor of the French names, only to be met by 162 other petitioners demanding that the wooden street names remain. “It’s a senseless waste of money to switch names now,” declared Janine Voetberg. “Where were these ‘Save St. Norbert’ people three years ago?” The two groups clashed first before Winnipeg’s environment committee, then carried the fight to city council, with the namechangers winning both rounds.
“I hope people don’t get the idea this is an argumentative community—we really get on quite well,” insists Save St. Norbert spokesman Jim Cameron, who says he only got involved to help preserve the area’s French heritage. “I mean, who’ll they dump on next? The Scots?” Cameron, as it happens, is a Scot.
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