Muskoka Rd. 38 could soon have a name chosen by Wahta Mohawk First Nation.
It’s the road where the Wahta Mohawks Administration Building is located.
In the District of Muskoka’s penultimate meeting until the next term of council is sworn in, they unanimously passed a motion advising staff to create a tri-council committee comprised of two members from Wahta Mohawk First Nation and one member each from the Township of Muskoka Lakes and district. While the other three members have not been chosen yet, district council agreed that the district chair should represent them at the tri-council meetings.
According to Tina Kilbourne, the District of Muskoka’s Continuous Improvement Team Lead, the guiding principles will lead to a new name for the road being unveiled in the spring of 2023.
Notably, in 2020, the Township of Lake of Bays renamed the former Colonization Rd. to Old Sinclair Rd. on in Oct. of that year at the request of the Moon River Métis Council during the Muskoka Area Indigenous Table’s (MAILT) first meeting.
Kilbourne says the idea to rename Muskoka Rd. 38 was born in Aug. 2021, when district council approved the MAILT’s Strengthening Indigenous Municipal Relationship Strategy 2.0. The fifth action asks district staff to work with the MAILT to put together a list of “disrespectful and inappropriate” road and place names with the goal of renaming them. That starts with renaming Muskoka Rd. 38.
In April 2022, Kilbourne sent a report to council outlining that it would (based on 2020 costs) cost around $26,860 to rename the road. The most significant cost is the $20,000 in one-time payments district staff estimate will be paid, when requested, to impacted residents and businesses. In the report, Kilbourne says the $100 residents and businesses would request would be considered “goodwill payments.”
“Using the district’s GeoHub interface, the Geomatics team was able to determine the number of properties that would be impacted that fronted onto Muskoka Rd. 38 – which was approximately 220 properties,” Kilbourne explains. “Based on feedback from other jurisdictions, we did not anticipate every impacted resident would choose to access the funding opportunity. Further, not every property has a place of residence or residents.”
“Changing road, place, or public asset names from well recognized English words to less recognized Indigenous words does require bold decision making and a strong communication strategy,” Kilbourne told council. However, she pointed to places like Penetanguishene and Kapuskasing as Indigenous words well known to Ontarians.
Coun. Brian Thompson noted how there are a number of roads and places in New Zealand with Indigenous-related names. “The more we can do that in this country, and Muskoka would be a great place to start all of this, I think it’s a great step forward,” he said “I’m proud to have been on this council to be part of this initiative.”
Muskoka Rd. 38 is a district-maintained road that extends from Hwy. 169 in Bala, through Wahta Mohawk Territory, to Hwy. 400 at exit 177. In Kilbourne’s April report to council, she wrote that a senior staff member at Wahta Mohawks First Nation said a previous attempt to rename the road was abandoned by the district because of “feedback from residents along the non-reserve portion of the road.”