The Trudeau government has told the CBC that it is now considering a request to change the name of Confederation Bridge to Epekwitk Crossing to promote reconciliation with Indigenous groups.
Public Services and Procurement Minister Filomena Tassi confirmed to the state broadcaster this week that the name change for Confederation Bridge – connecting Prince Edward Island (PEI) and New Brunswick – was under review.
“The renaming of the bridge can play an important role in reconciliation by promoting the Mi’kmaw language and culture,” said Tassi. “Further advancing the work of reconciliation is and has been a priority of our government since the get-go. We will continue on this path.”
At the end of April, the PEI government voted unanimously to request the Trudeau government change the name of Canada’s longest and most expensive bridge, calling it “a commitment to upholding the rights of Indigenous people, which are protected under the Constitution.”
“This is a great opportunity,” said P.E.I. Premier Dennis King, whose tabling of the motion was seconded by Opposition Green Party leader Peter Bevan-Baker. “I’m excited for the process, and I’m excited for what’s to come.”
The motion added, “it is of the utmost importance Indigenous languages are respected and recognized,” adding that 2022 is the International Decade of Indigenous Language.
The New Brunswick government has taken no position, however, saying “(t)his is not a provincial decision, and so the Premier is not going to weigh in on the subject at this time.”
Construction of Confederation Bridge took place between 1993 and 1997, and cost $1.3 billion dollars to complete. At nearly 13km in length, it remains one of the longest bridges in the world, continuing the Trans-Canada Highway between the two northern Maritime Provinces. Before this, travel between PEI and New Brunswick was provided largely by ferries.
The name Epekwitk – anglicized as Abegweit, and the traditional Mi’kmaw name for PEI itself – is already reflected in the name of Abegweit Passage, the narrowest part of the Northumberland Strait, which Confederation Bridge crosses. “Abegweit Crossing” was also one of the original name proposals for Confederation Bridge in 1997, with two ferries taking the name MV Abegweit between 1947 and 1997.
The move to rechristen Confederation Bridge to Epekwitk Crossing reflects an escalating trend on the part of governments to promote Indigenous reconciliation and “decolonization” by renaming Canadian institutions and infrastructure.
Schools across the country named after the Father of Confederation and Canada’s first prime minister John A. Macdonald, for example, have been changed or are under consideration by trustees. Calgary’s Sir John A. Macdonald School is looking at dropping it, while Brampton’s Sir John A. Macdonald Senior Public School has just been renamed Nibi Emosaawdang Public School, after an Ojibwe grandmother and “water-rights activist.”
Toronto’s Ryerson University was also renamed last month to Toronto Metropolitan University after a unanimous vote by its board of governors to hold namesake Egerton Ryerson accountable for his role in the Indigenous residential school system.
Dozens of statues of historical figures – including Macdonald but also Queen Victoria and Elizabeth II – have also been either ripped down during protests or removed by governments in response to issues surrounding residential schools and reconciliation.
Despite saying that it is considering the PEI government’s request to rename Confederation Bridge, the Trudeau government has not provided a timeline for its review.