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Puslinch council votes 4-1 to keep name of Swastika Trail

by Mike Robinson

ABERFOYLE - Puslinch Township council has decided to keep the name Swastika Trail.

On Dec. 20 council voted 4-1 to retain the name of the private road  near Puslinch Lake in the southwest corner of the township.

Several councillors stated the decision was not about the name itself, but offering support for the results of a November vote involving residents of the 800 foot-long road.

Named in the 1920s, the trail recently became embroiled in controversy, with some residents advocating the name be changed. They contend that despite the origins of the name, which was associated with good fortune, the swastika’s later association with the Nazi party made the name unacceptable.

Over the summer and fall, a campaign opposing the name began in earnest, despite a vote in which the majority of Swastika Trail homeowners voted to retain the name.

There were no protest signs or banners among the 60-plus people who gathered for a council meeting at the Puslinch Community Centre in Aberfoyle on Dec. 20.

Township staff, councillors and the media made up roughly one third of those gathered, while presenters, family friends and supporters comprised the majority.

Nearly two hours was set aside for delegations at the meeting. Opinions during the presentations were equally divided on the fate of the road name.

Delegations included: Lori and Paul Wyszynski, Bill Knetsch, Michael Mostyn of B’Nail Brith, Donna O’Krafka, Larry O’Krafka, Rudy Hofer, Connie Killion, Natalia Busch, James Horton, Jennifer Horton, David Hussey, Randy Guzar, Audrey Guzar and 2222703 Ontario Inc. (to discuss the matter from a corporate point of view).

The Municipal Act allows municipalities to pass bylaws to name, or change the name, of private roads.

Before that happens,  the municipality has to provide public notice about its intent to change the name.

A resolution before council directed staff to send letters to all the property owner(s) on Swastika Trail asking for an alternative street name.

In addition, the resolution asked for consideration to reimburse the Bayview Cottagers’ Association, upon submission of receipts, up to $1,500 to install a plaque on private land to commemorate the historical significance of the name Swastika Trail.

Councillor Ken Roth said, “having grown up in Canada post-World War Two, to me the Swastika was symbolic of hate and genocide. Only recently did I learn this ancient meaning and its importance to cultures and religions different than my own.

“One symbol, two contradictory representations to the people in our community.”

Roth said that on Nov. 1 trail resident “exercised democracy and the majority of the Bayview Cottagers Association members voted to keep the name.”

Councillor Matthew Bulmer was reminded that in September, council did ask the cottagers association to consider changing the name.

At the time, council could have simply asked  the landowner, Bulmer said - or council could have unilaterally changed the name.

“Instead council contacted the cottager’s association to create a fair, just and democratic process,” he said.

Bulmer added that “inherent to ... that request was that council would respect and accept the decision.”

At the same time, he said  council needs to be cognizant of Canada Post’s plans to change addresses in the township as part of a move to identify residents by community name rather than by rural routes.

For Swastika Trail, the community would change from a Cambridge rural route to a Puslinch address.

“I believe council should respect that democratic decision, and could not support a move which could force residents to potentially change their addresses - potentially twice within a year,” said Bulmer.

He asked if the motion could be amended to tie any potential name change to coincide with the Canada Post changes.

Councillor Susan Fielding  said that in her many years on council, this was one of the most difficult decisions to make.

“I really appreciate all those who came forward as delegations. On both sides there are very compelling arguments,” she said.

Fielding added she personally cherishes democracy and freedom.

“Though by a slim margin, residents decided not to change this name. In my opinion, ignoring this democratic vote would be disrespectful to freedoms our countrymen fought and died for,” she said.

Councillor John Sepulis said the issue has caused  unnecessary strife within the community.

“It will continue to fester and flare up ... unless we address it and change the name,” he said, adding this is not strictly a cottage association matter.

“It is a Puslinch issue, and affects how the township is viewed by others,” he said.

“I fully understand the historical significance of the name, which is why I included the recommendation of a plaque.”

Sepulis said his motion tries to provide a balance to address the unease in the community, yet provide the opportunity to preserve the name in the proper context.

Mayor Dennis Lever stated “as we have seen tonight this is a very emotional issue and there is a big divide between the two sides.

“I don’t believe that any of the residents who voted to keep the name are hateful or feel that in any way the name is disrespectful,” Lever said.

He again stated Swastika Trail is a private road. It is not owned by the township, nor by most of the residents living on the road.

“My biggest concern is, when does the government get involved with changing the name of a road - against the will of the people who live there?” Lever stated.

The resolution to change the road name was defeated in a 4-1 recorded vote.

Lever, Bulmer, Fielding and Ken Roth were opposed, while Sepulis voted in favour of the resolution.

 

December 29, 2017

 
 

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