Notice of motion to rebrand Russell — while keeping name — now before council

The main drag through Russell. ©Google

Township step closer to honouring somebody other than slave owner Peter Russell, following June 15 meeting

Tom Van Dusen
Nation Valley News

RUSSELL — As forewarned by Mayor Pierre Leroux, his concept to reassign the namesake and not the actual name of his municipality to ease a controversy over its slavery connections went no further than a notice of motion Monday night.

Early in a virtual council meeting, Leroux reminded viewers that a notice to officially remove the connection to 1790s Chief Administrator of Upper Canada Peter Russell would not be debated and decided upon until the July 6 meeting. That’s the way the process works, he explained.

‘’Our procedural bylaw requires that notice be given at one meeting and only discussed at the following meeting. This is to allow council members the opportunity to reflect upon what is proposed and not rush into a decision. This also allows the public an opportunity to reach out to members of council to voice their opinions.’’

The motion observes that Russell residents strive to be kind-hearted and inclusive, that council recognizes the ‘’offensive nature’’ of its namesake, and that the community doesn’t share his values. ‘’Council recognizes that being named after this individual can be hurtful and disrespectful to our residents.’’

Meanwhile, Councillor Mike Tarnowski, who seconded Leroux’s motion, brought forward the idea for a township diversity, equity and inclusion committee which would consider name rededication. Staff will propose terms of reference and organization of such a committee by September. Suggestions for name rebranding would be limited to worthy people with Russell as a first, last or middle name.

The old news that Russell owned slaves and intended to trade in them has caused a sometimes acrimonious uproar in the era of erupting anti-racism. Closing in on 2,000 names, a petition to disassociate Russell Village, Township and County from their namesake has been modified by sponsor Vanessa Leman.

Considering the economic impact that would come from applying a totally new name, Leman says the mayor’s rededication solution seems like a good one. However, Leman insisted, it’s imperative that Peter Russell and his ‘’deplorable ways’’ should not be lost in the transition; consideration should be given to acknowledging who the township was named for, why his actions were inhuman, and how council ‘’chose to take a small but necessary step towards progress.‘’

While the Peter Russell debate is being depicted as an awakening, 40 years ago in much more subdued times the then local Castor Review raised the topic particularly as it applied to Russell Village. The newspaper reported that no evidence existed that the village, which had been officially named Duncanville after a local founder in 1852, had been officially renamed in honour of the government functionary.

In researching the village centennial back then, local postmaster Pierre Robinson could unearth no evidence of a name change after digging in all the usual places for documentation. He urged residents to search for clues in their attics. Almost by osmosis, the current name became official when the Police Village of Russell was created in 1898.

The Review also ran an expose depicting Peter Russell as a land grabber and slave trader. There was little reaction at the time.

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