Mayor wants to find new namesake for Russell Township

(Ian Urbach/CTV News Ottawa)

The mayor of Russell is looking for another Russell to honour in the eastern Ontario town.

Mayor Pierre Leroux will introduce a motion at tonight's Township of Russell council meeting to rededicate the town of Russell in someone else's honour. The motion recommends the town create a vetting committee to evaluate and make recommendations to Council on a new namesake.

The move comes after a petition was launched to change the name of the eastern Ontario town named after Peter Russell. In the late 1700s, he was the Receiver General of Upper Canada.

The petition to change the name says Russell is "named after Peter Russell, a corrupt politician who owned slaves and actively fought against the abolition of slavery in Canada. Renaming this town will be a small first step towards equity and justice for Canada's BIPOC population."

As of Sunday evening, 1,400 people had signed the petition to change the name of Russell.

The Village or Russell, Township of Russell and County of Russell were all named in relation to Peter Russell more than 200 years ago.

Leroux's motion states, "The ideals of Peter Russell do not reflect the values of our Township residents." The mayor recommends Council recognize the "offensive nature of this individual, and agree that we do not share his values."

Speaking on Newstalk 580 CFRA's Ottawa Now with Kristy Cameron Friday afternoon, Leroux said he doesn't support changing the name of the town, instead dedicating the municipality to someone with the name Russell.

"While the town is named after Peter Russell, he actually never stepped foot here and it was actually a clerical error. Two areas of Ontario were supposed to be named and Peter Russell was supposed to be for another part of Ontario. There was a clerical error and they mixed up the areas," said Leroux.

"It's not just changing a name, there's so much impact to that. If you look at anything in the town that's called Russell – whether it's the Russell fire department, the Russell Restaurant, our businesses, our Russell Lions. All these organizations are based on the town's name. If you change the town's name, what are you saying to these organizations."

Leroux said there would be a financial impact if they changed the town's name, up to $50,000 or $100,000.

If the motion is approved, the public will be invited to make submissions to rededicate Russell to the vetting committee.

"I'm not trying to take anything away from our history, I'm not trying to wash it away or anything," said Leroux about why he wants to look to rename Russell after someone else.

"I want to take this as a community building event. In this year, in 2020, we’ve been brought forward this information that we have to seriously look at ourselves and as a community we say 'this is not who we are.' And in this next year we make a change and this is why we've chosen this person."