A park that served the former Assiniboia Indian Residential School is getting a new name, which aims to honour one of its survivors and teach Winnipeggers about its history.
On Thursday, city council unanimously voted to replace the name Wellington Park with Theodore Niizhota Fontaine Park. The green space is located on the south side of Wellington Crescent, alongside the former school at 621 Academy Rd.
Theodore Fontaine attended the school from 1958 to 1960.
His wife, Morgan Fontaine, said he visited the site nearly every day in recent years, deeming it sacred land where many residential school students enjoyed their first taste of freedom at school, even though they were still isolated from families, communities and culture.
It was always a very emotional place for him and really important to him that that land be preserved for survivors and community members to come together in reconciliation… He would never have thought for a moment that the park or the land should be named for him, but he wanted the land to be preserved, Morgan told media Thursday.
She previously told the Free Press the relatively safe green space offered rare moments of joy for young Theodore, after he had suffered a decade of oppression and abuse during his forced attendance at the Fort Alexander Indian Residential School.
Fontaine was a prominent leader who served as chief of Sagkeeng First Nation and executive director of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, in addition to work as an engineer and federal civil servant. He also devoted ample time to educating others about the legacy of residential schools, speaking to more than 1,600 organizations.
Morgan said the renaming offers an opportunity to create awareness of the Winnipeg school, which many nearby residents knew very little about.
Those students were really isolated on the grounds of the school, isolated from the neighbouring community, even though there are houses right adjacent to the fence lines… The survivors want these stories to be known, they want that legacy to be understood, she said.
The request for the name change was made on behalf of the Assiniboia Residential School Legacy Group. The site is currently named after Arthur Wellington Ross, a lawyer, politician and land speculator who owned property in the Fort Rouge area during the 1880s. The name Wellington also labels an avenue, a crescent and other spaces.
Mayor Brian Bowman said Thursdays decision to rename the park will help Winnipeg honour its full history.
I think it demonstrates how far weve come as a municipality, the fact that we have Welcoming Winnipeg, that we are putting our minds as a municipality, as a matter of process now, to considering how we resolve the absence of Indigenous names and place names in the community, said Bowman.
The Welcoming Winnipeg: Reconciling our History policy handles naming and renaming requests for places and historical markers, often with the intent to address names that negatively impact the Indigenous community. Name changes can also seek to offer a more balanced perspective of a sites relevance, honour Indigenous people, educate the public and/or contribute to a more complete look at history.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.