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Lunenburg votes to replace colonial legacy of Cornwallis Street with Queen Street

(Illustration: Jessie McLaughlin)

Lunenburg’s signs for Cornwallis Street will be taken down and replaced with Queen Street, replacing one reminder of our bloody colonial origins selected in the mid-18th century with one voted on by Town Council on Tuesday.

At the regular meeting of Town Council on Nov. 28, councillors voted four against three to move a motion directing staff to rename Cornwallis Street to Queen Street.

Council’s discussion leading to the vote appeared to be based on incomprehensible pie charts provided in agenda packages allegedly representing analysis of a ranked choice survey that asked town residents how Cornwallis Street should be renamed.

Mayor Jamie Myra voted in favour of renaming Cornwallis Street to Queen Street. 

During his campaign for Mayor before he was elected in August, Myra had said he would consult Chief Deborah Robinson of the Wasoqopa’q (Acadia) First Nation before proceeding with a vote on renaming Cornwallis Street, but this did not happen.

In an interview with The Barnacle following the vote, Myra explained how learning more about how the survey process had been carried out so far changed his mind on whether consulting the Wasoqopa’q (Acadia) First Nation first was necessary.

Councillors Jenni Birtles, Stephen Ernst, Peter Mosher and Mayor Jamie Myra voted in favour of the motion. 

Councillors Melissa Duggan, Susan Sanford and Deputy Mayor Ed Halverson did not vote in favour of the motion.

(Photo: Jesse Ward)

Queen Street would be a “slap in the face to our Indigenous neighbours,” says Halverson

Councillor Ed Halverson, who was voted Deputy Mayor on Nov. 14, started the discussion on the motion by saying “Queen Street” should not be considered.

Lunenburg committed to renaming Cornwallis Street this January, with council accepting a proposal from the now-defunct Anti-Racism Special Committee to end this aspect of the legacy of Edward Cornwallis after public consultation.

A release by the town in January acknowledged “the controversial former governor of Nova Scotia issued a scalping proclamation bounty in 1749 to anyone who killed Mi’kmaw men, women, and children.”

Lunenburg residents, and interested parties from out of town, were invited by the Town to complete a survey in February offering nine possible options for renaming Cornwallis Street (plus an additional “Other” write-in-option”). “Queen Street” was one of the options.

Out of the nine options: seven were Mi’kmaq terms relevant to Lunenburg, one was “Reconciliation”, and the ninth was “Queen.”

The “Strategic Plan Relevance” listed in the Town’s report on the renaming survey results lists these intended aims:

  • Expand heritage recognition beyond European colonial landscapes to include
    perspectives of Nova Scotia’s First Nations and Black communities, and other cultural
  • Build relationships with local Mi’kmaq community members and organizations and Black Nova Scotian community members and organizations, to inform how best to broaden
    the historic narrative and commemoration of Lunenburg through an anti-racism and
    decolonization lens.

Halverson said that replacing Cornwallis Street with Queen Street would go against the point of the decision to rename the street.

“I can’t reconcile naming a street, where we remove the name of someone who was a representative of the Crown, for tremendous acts, and then proposing to rename it after the Crown he was representing. It makes no sense, so I think we need to take Queen Street out of consideration.”

“I think it’s a slap in the face, frankly, to our Indigenous neighbours,” said Halverson.

He asked CAO Jamie Doyle whether it would be possible to recalibrate the survey results without Queen Street included.

Halverson’s comments appeared to be based on a presentation in the council package that appeared to show Queen Street as the most popular option among 36 per cent of town residents who voted, and 46 per cent of Cornwallis Street residents who voted.

But the data in the council package did not make sense for what it alleged to show, and this was not addressed by council. More on this later in the story.

How the debate went down

CAO Jamie Doyle addressed Halverson saying that if Council wished, they could choose multiple options other than proceeding with Queen Street.

Doyle said someone could put forward a motion to rename Cornwallis Street anything they want, or the survey results could be recalculated with “Queen Street” removed.

Councillor Melissa Duggan was Chair of the Anti-Racism Special Committee at the time the survey options were selected.

Duggan said she thought it was important to note that, “at the time these names were presented, we had a very diverse group of committee members. The names did not come up randomly, they were well thought-over. Queen Street was one that was put forward by that group, which had representation by many local communities.”

She said Queen Street should still remain under consideration for this reason.

Councillor Susan Sanford said she agreed with Halverson, saying, “I really don’t feel that Queen Street is appropriate for what I understand we are trying to achieve in the context of reconciliation.”

“If you didn’t want to hear it from the public, you shouldn’t have asked them”

Councillor Peter Mosher spoke next.

“The fly in the ointment for me is whether I like the name Queen Street or not. We did send it out to the public, and we did vote on it. And that is overwhelmingly the majority out of the different scenarios presented to us,” said Mosher.

“So, you know – if you didn’t want to hear it from the public, you shouldn’t have asked them. To me, I’m a little bit bound by the information we got back from the survey.”

Halverson reminded Council that “Reconciliation” as a street name was suggested by Mi’kmaq Elder Daniel Paul in a letter to Council reviewed at their Jan. 10 meeting.

“If you go back, the letter he wrote was quite eloquent and, I thought, quite thoughtful as well.”

Paul, author of the groundbreaking history work We Were Not The Savages, died at 84 in June. He spent decades advocating for renaming landmarks named after Edward Cornwallis.

Halverson continued: “I’ll leave this with you: if you can explain to a grade eight class in Eskasoni why it’s appropriate to rename Cornwallis Street, Queen Street – then we can vote for it.”

“If you can do that and hold your head up, in all honesty – I don’t think we can do that.”

“This is the standard by which this council, and this town, will be judged going forward. For generations”

Councillor Stephen Ernst spoke next, explaining the history of Lunenburg’s street names.

“I do not in the least disagree with Deputy Mayor Halverson. I would like to add some counterpoints. Again, as Councillor Mosher has brought up, this was put to a town-wide poll.”

Ernst raised the question whether, in the context of the Old Town Lunenburg UNESCO World Heritage Site, UNESCO should be notified about any potential name changes.

“If you look at the naming scheme of the original grid layout, the three centre straights were named after – albeit, male – members of the Royal Family, with King in the centre, and Duke and Prince on each side. The two streets planking either side of that – the two Governors of Nova Scotia up to that point, Cornwallis on the West, Hopson on the East.”

“So, to me, I just wanted to throw in that Queen is more fitting and apt to the original plan in the Town of Lunenburg. The question is – should UNESCO be notified? Where the grid layout plays an integral part in our designation, is that going to be affected at all?”

Halverson replied, saying, “Instead of worrying about the UNESCO designation, when we’re thinking about these streets, we should be more worried about the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

“Because this is the standard by which this council, and this town, will be judged going forward. For generations.”

Councillor Mosher moves vote for Queen Street

At this point in the conversation, there was no motion on the table on how – or whether – to proceed.

Councillor Mosher spoke up, saying, “To move this forward – I think the reason we put this out to the general public is because we struggled with the same question we have tonight.”

“So, I’m just gonna shoot in the bullet in the air here and take the results from the survey, and I’m going to suggest that we approve Queen Street as the new name for Cornwallis Street.”

Mosher put forward a motion to rename Cornwallis Street to Queen Street, and Councillor Jenni Birtles seconded the motion.

Councillor Duggan replied, saying she instead proposed Samqwan Street – one of the nine names on the list – as the new name for Cornwallis Street.

No councillors replied to her suggestion, and there was no further discussion.

At this point, Mayor Jamie Myra and Councillor Jenni Birtles had not shared any input on the renaming process overall, or how they thought a vote should proceed.

Myra, Birtles, Ernst and Mosher voted to proceed with renaming Cornwallis to Queen.

Data in agenda package is incomprehensible

Council’s discussion leading to the vote was based on incomprehensible data in a presentation compiled by the consultant Ignite Event Management at a cost of $2,000, delivered in a report prepared by Michael Best, Communications Manager, and reviewed by CAO Jamie Doyle.

Lunenburg residents, and interested parties from out of town, were invited by the Town to complete a survey in February offering nine possible options for renaming Cornwallis Street (plus an additional “Other” write-in-option”).

Survey participants were asked to name their first, second and third choices out of these options as a new name for Cornwallis Street.

The Barnacle followed up with Michael Best, Communications Manager with the Town of Lunenburg, in July to check on the status of the survey.

Best wrote that the town was using a ranked ballot system, and summarized the process:

“If no suggestion wins a majority of first-preference votes, the suggestion with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated. First-preference votes cast for the failed suggestion are eliminated, lifting the next-preference choices indicated on those ballots,” he wrote.

“A new tally is conducted to determine whether any suggestion has won a majority of the adjusted votes. The process is repeated until a suggestion wins an outright majority.”

Pie charts cannot represent results of an instant-runoff vote

Best’s description describes a Instant-Runoff voting methodology.

Results of an Instant-Runoff Vote survey typically show the stages of how a vote proceeded.

For an example in recent Canadian political history of how this goes down, here is Wikipedia’s visualization for the 2020 Conservative Party of Canada leadership election.

This instant-runoff vote election had voters select their first, second and third preferred candidates. The results led to three rounds of elimination because none of the four candidates received more than 50 percent of first choice votes. In the end, the candidate who initially had the most first-round votes did not come out on top.

(Source: Wikipedia)

In Tuesday’s agenda package, under the header “SURVEY RESULTS”, the report reads: “Using a ranked ballot system, these are the results after nine rounds of elimination.”

But while the report is labelled as “the results after nine rounds of elimination” after “using a ranked ballot system,” what follows in the consultant’s report is exclusively a series of pie charts.

There is no analysis presented on what the data in the pie charts represent or how any analysis was conducted that led to the charts.

The first pie chart, for example, has ten segments matching the ten options on the survey (nine listed options plus the “Other” write-in option).

(Source: Town of Lunenburg)

Since there are ten options presented, no elimination has occurred in this pie chart.

This data could possibly show the results of the first stage of voting, which would be very different from the results of an instant-runoff vote.

It is unclear what it shows, but it could not possibly show the results of an instant-runoff vote. It is impossible to know what this chart is trying to convey without additional context not supplied within the report.

On the morning of Nov. 28, The Barnacle emailed Best for a copy of the data used to create this report and an explanation of how the pie charts could be interpreted as the results of a ranked choice survey.

Best has not replied as of press time.

It is unclear whether any councillors had access to the data underlying the pie charts, or any other presentation of this data, before Tuesday’s vote. Mayor Jamie Myra confirmed with The Barnacle that his first time seeing any survey results was in the agenda package.

Mayor Myra had previously said he would reach out to Wasoqopa’q (Acadia) First Nation and initiate a new renaming process

At The Barnacle’s Mayoral candidates’ debate in July, Myra said, “If I was elected as Mayor, I’d revisit the Cornwallis Street renaming to ensure the Indigenous community had adequate input into the renaming.”

“The entire purpose of a name change was to remove the name and history of Cornwallis. We may need to begin anew with a community-led process to heal the rifts that developed over the failed process,” said Myra.

“My plan as Mayor is to immediately contact and invite the Chief of the Acadia Band, Chief Robinson, to meet with myself and council and establish a new framework with which to address the Cornwallis Street issue.”

Myra spoke with The Barnacle following the council meeting.

Asked about what changed since July for him to proceed with the vote tonight without first consulting the Wasoqopa’q (Acadia) First Nation, Myra said:

“Basically, to hear the fact the Anti-Racism Committee had already talked about this at length, most of the names if not all of them were brought forward by that committee from what I was told tonight, and previously.”

“So a lot of that has been done, it’s been brought in by other communities, more diverse groups than just Town Council. I was under the understanding that Town Council brought the names forward, discussed them, and made this decision.”

“I’ve come to find out later that this was discussed at a much broader length, at a committee of council, this is where the names came from. Since they’ve done all that in the past and this has been going on for a long time, I felt that the residents wanted to know what the name was going to be.”

“The other overwhelming thing that made my choice the way it was is the people who actually live on Cornwallis Street, who are going to be impacted the most in that area, were overwhelmingly in favour of either Queen Street or – leaving it Cornwallis, which is totally not ok – so this was, I guess, the best of those two choices.”

Myra answers questions about his vote, data in agenda package

The Barnacle asked Mayor Myra, “You were one of the four votes to rename Cornwallis Street to Queen Street. Why did you think this was the right vote to make?”

Myra replied, “Basically, the first time I saw any of the results were two or three days ago. I know during the campaign there was a lot of talk about the renaming of that street. But unfortunately, I didn’t know any of that information, neither did any of the residents, and I tend to agree with Councillor Mosher’s comments that the community had asked to be involved in the process.”

“If Queen Street would have been a name that was brought forward by a resident, I wouldn’t have supported that, because it wouldn’t have really been a choice offered by the current council. But this current group offered Queen Street as one of the seven or eight or nine options and it was overwhelmingly supported by the local residents, and in fact, the people that actually live on Cornwallis Street – their numbers are even higher.”

“I guess if you ask the public’s input, and you receive an overwhelming response like that, in a democratic process, then I felt that I wouldn’t be doing my residents what they deserved if I voted any other way. Do I feel it’s the most appropriate name? Probably not. Do I feel that name should have been included in the original ballot? Probably not. But I wasn’t involved at the time.”

“It was, and overwhelmingly the residents chose that name, so I went with the voice of the people. That’s who we represent, and that’s why I made the decision.”

The Barnacle also asked about the data presentation in the council package.

We asked: “What about the way the data was presented? This was a ranked choice vote but the results were presented as pie charts. It seems we didn’t have data on people’s actual first selections, or results on the rounds of voting that people’s preferences would have gone through to reach a final result.”

Myra replied: “I honestly don’t know, you might be able to get that answer from staff. If we would have eliminated a street, we would have got even more detailed data. The way I understand it, that was the data that this group had paid for and requested. Some of the more detailed data, I don’t think was included in the actual survey itself when it was sent out.”

“So they would have to the people that presented it and get that information at that time. I think they did receive the data they requested and paid for, but I don’t think the data you’re asking about was ever requested, so that’s the only data I saw. I saw the same data you saw.”

What have some other Nova Scotia municipalities renamed their Cornwallis Street?

  • Sydney selected Legacy Street in August 2020.
  • Bridgewater selected Crescent Street in June 2022.
  • Halifax selected Nora Bernard Street after Nora Bernard, a residential school survivor who successfully advocated for compensation for residential school survivors, in December 2022.
  • Kentville selected Bridge Street in September.


6 responses to “Lunenburg votes to replace colonial legacy of Cornwallis Street with Queen Street”

  1. William Nickerson

    Excellent Article. Councillors council- but do not have morals. This one of the post pathetic name changes in history.

  2. Tricia Snell

    Thank you for reporting this. “Queen” is a bizarre and shameful decision. And looking at the raw numbers (if that is indeed reflected in the summary pie chart), they show that the majority of people voted for an indigenous name (even if their votes were split into 8 different choices). So despite the mayor’s and Councillor Mosher’s comments, the one colonial choice of “Queen” doesn’t reflect a majority.

  3. Janet Corkum

    Thanks very much for this very informative and well researched article. I appreciate it. Good job !

  4. Flora

    Nothing has changed except that the mayor and councillors have shown that they still represent the colonial, racist mindset of a Cornwallis. it is shocking/not shocking and disturbing and the opposite of reconciliation.
    Here in Annapolis County, we still have a community named Cornwallis and no signs at all of even considering a new name.

  5. This was a very interesting read. Thank you so much explaining it so well for folks. What a misstep! This will haunt council for years and years to come.

  6. Tricia Fish

    So embarrassing to think Mr. Myra et al are not sensitive to this issue. Very disappointing. Let’s sort this out ASAP and pull Queen from the list— for obvious reasons.

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