A street named Swastika Trail has sparked a polarising debate in a small Canadian municipality, where residents have taken their cause to court after a months-long campaign to change the name proved fruitless.
After years of quietly complaining about the name, a group of residents in the tight-knit southern Ontario township of Puslinch, population 7,300, launched a campaign last autumn aimed at convincing their neighbours that it was time for change.
Some living on the private road were uneasy about having it listed on their driver’s licenses and other government documents. Others said it was simply time to untangle the municipality from the offensive symbol.
Their view was countered by those who argued that the street had been named in the 1920s, when swastikas were associated with peace rather than a symbol of Adolf Hitler, the Nazi party and white supremacy.
Others cited the personal expenses that those living on the street would be forced to incur if they had to change their address on all of their documentation.
Soon after, a local association put the issue to a vote. By a slim majority – 25 votes to 20 – residents voted to keep the name.
“It’s 100 years old. It’s our township’s history,” Lori Wyszynski told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in December. “I’m tired of this world – what we’re living in right now – and everyone (saying), ‘Let’s smash the statues, let’s change the school names, let’s just burn history books.’”
The municipal matter soon spilled on to the national stage, after B’nai Brith Canada launched a petition urging authorities to rename the street. “There is no place for a street with the name of a symbol of antisemitic hatred in modern Canada,” Michael Mostyn of the organisation said this week in a statement.
After a December council meeting that heard from 14 delegations, councillors in Puslinch Township voted 4-1 not to intervene in the matter, citing the vote that had already been held by residents.
On Tuesday, two residents of the municipality sought to overturn that decision, filing an appeal with the Ontario court of justice.
“We were just out of options,” Randy Guzar, a resident of the street and one of the lawsuit’s applicants, told the Cambridge Times. “Having this name in contemporary society is just completely unacceptable to us. In fact, it’s a name drenched in evil.”
Their appeal argues that township’s authorities were wrong to rely on the vote held by residents, alleging in court documents that it was rife with procedural errors and bias.
Puslinch Township council and the local group that held the vote, Bayview Cottagers Association, have 30 days to respond to the legal challenge.
The road in Puslinch is not the province’s only reference to the symbol; northern Ontario is home to the small town of Swastika, incorporated in the early 1900s and named after a local gold mine that embraced the symbol as one signifying good luck.