Rideau-Goulbourn named after British politician who owned hundreds of slaves, Coun. Scott Moffatt discovered

Sandra Abma · Nov 26, 2020

Rideau-Goulbourn Coun. Scott Moffatt says he’s heard from residents who support his bid to rename the rural Ottawa ward, and from residents opposed to the idea. (Kate Porter/CBC)

‌Members‌ ‌of‌ ‌Ottawa’s‌ ‌Black‌ ‌community‌ ‌are‌ ‌lauding‌ ‌Rideau-Goulbourn Coun. Scott‌ ‌Moffatt’s‌ ‌bid‌ ‌to‌ ‌rename‌ ‌the‌ ‌rural ward after he learned it’s named in part after‌ ‌a‌ ‌British‌ ‌politician‌ ‌who‌ ‌owned‌ ‌hundreds‌ ‌of‌ ‌slaves.‌ ‌ ‌

‌”I‌ ‌have‌ ‌to‌ ‌applaud‌ ‌him … for‌ ‌having‌ ‌the‌ ‌conscience‌,‌”‌ ‌said‌ ‌Sarah‌ ‌Onyango,‌ a board‌ ‌member‌ ‌with‌ ‌Black‌ ‌History‌ ‌Ottawa.‌ ‌

“‌I‌ ‌really‌ ‌praise‌ ‌the‌ ‌councillor‌ ‌for‌ ‌going‌ ‌that‌ ‌step‌ ‌further‌ ‌in‌ ‌wanting‌ ‌to‌ ‌change‌ ‌the‌ ‌name‌ ‌so‌ ‌that‌ ‌the‌ ‌place‌ ‌he‌ ‌represents‌ ‌is‌ ‌identified‌ ‌with‌ ‌something‌ ‌more‌ ‌positive.”

We‌ ‌support‌ ‌it‌ ‌and‌ ‌realize‌ ‌that‌ ‌it‌ ‌takes‌ ‌a‌ ‌lot‌ ‌of‌ ‌courage.- Robin Browne, 613-819 Black Hub

Moffatt,‌ a ‌history‌ ‌enthusiast‌ who‌ ‌holds‌ ‌a‌ ‌degree‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌subject‌ ‌from‌ ‌Carleton‌ ‌University,‌ ‌has‌ ‌been‌ ‌digging‌ ‌into‌ ‌the‌ ‌stories‌ ‌behind‌ ‌the‌ ‌names‌ ‌of‌ ‌local‌ ‌roads,‌ ‌parks‌ ‌and‌ ‌neighbourhoods in Ward 21, ‌and‌ ‌sharing‌ ‌them‌ ‌on‌ ‌Scott‌ Moffatt’s‌ ‌Twenty‌ ‌One‌ ‌Podcast.‌ ‌

Unearthing this dark aspect of Ottawa’s past can serve as a ‘teaching moment,’ according to Black History Ottawa board member Sarah Onyango. (Radio-Canada)

In‌ ‌an‌ ‌episode‌ titled‌ ‌A ‌Troubling‌ ‌Discovery‌ ‌Calls for‌ ‌a‌ ‌Name‌ ‌Change in Rideau-Goulbourn, posted‌‌ ‌Oct.‌ ‌31,‌ ‌Moffatt‌ ‌told‌ ‌listeners‌ ‌about‌ ‌the‌ ‌disturbing past‌ ‌of‌ ‌Henry‌ ‌Goulburn‌ ‌(1784-1856),‌‌ ‌‌a‌ ‌British‌ ‌statesman‌ ‌and‌ senior ‌cabinet‌ ‌minister‌ ‌who‌ ‌was‌ ‌also‌ ‌the‌ ‌absentee‌ ‌owner‌ ‌of‌ ‌”‌one‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌worst”‌ ‌plantations‌ ‌in‌ ‌Jamaica.‌ ‌(It’s not immediately clear why the former Goulbourn Township had a different spelling than its namesake.)

“We‌’re‌ ‌talking‌ ‌about‌ ‌an‌ ‌individual‌ ‌who‌ ‌was‌ ‌a‌ ‌known‌ ‌slave‌ ‌owner‌ ‌at‌ ‌the‌ ‌time,”‌ ‌said‌ ‌Moffatt.‌ ‌

Gouburn never visited the plantation, but it gained notoriety in Britain for the especially cruel treatment of its slaves. ‌Moffatt‌ ‌said‌ ‌Goulburn‌ ‌lost‌ ‌a‌ ‌re-‌election‌ ‌bid‌ ‌‌‌because‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌disapproval‌ ‌of‌ ‌his‌ ‌constituents.‌ ‌

‌”This‌ ‌was‌ ‌a‌ ‌problem‌ ‌for‌ ‌him‌ 200‌ ‌years‌ ‌ago,”‌ ‌‌Moffatt said.‌ ‌”‌It‌ ‌wasn’t‌ ‌OK‌ ‌then,‌ ‌and‌ ‌it‌ ‌certainly‌ ‌isn’t‌ ‌OK‌ ‌now.‌”

Henry Goulburn, Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1828-1830, never visited his Jamaican plantations, which he had inherited, and never set foot in Canada. (William Holl/British Museum)

‘A past that they’d rather not know’

Still, ‌Moffatt‌ said not everyone in the ward is pleased that he’s unearthed this aspect of its history.

‌”It‌ ‌was‌ ‌a‌ ‌past‌ ‌that‌ ‌they’d‌ ‌rather‌ ‌not‌ ‌know,‌”‌ ‌he said.

Moffatt has asked‌ residents to come up with alternatives to commemorating Goulburn, who never set foot in Canada, either.‌ But the councillor has decided against holding formal public consultations, drawing criticism from both sides of the debate.

Robin Browne of 613-819 Black Hub believes it took ‘a lot of courage’ for Moffatt to call for a name change. (Robyn Miller/CBC)

‌Robin Browne‌,‌ ‌co-founder‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌‌ ‌advocacy‌ ‌group‌ ‌613-819‌ ‌Black‌ ‌Hub, believes‌ ‌‌the time is right for ‌a‌ ‌shameful‌ ‌wrong to be corrected.

‌”We‌ ‌support‌ ‌it‌ ‌and‌ ‌realize‌ ‌that‌ ‌it‌ ‌takes‌ ‌a‌ ‌lot‌ ‌of‌ ‌courage,”‌ ‌Browne said.

“‌I‌ ‌would‌ ‌suggest‌ ‌probably‌ ‌part‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌reason‌ ‌this‌ ‌is‌ ‌happening‌ ‌is‌ ‌because‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌moment‌ ‌we’re‌ ‌in‌ ‌in‌ ‌history‌ ‌with‌ ‌the‌ ‌death‌ ‌of‌ ‌George‌ ‌Floyd,‌” Browne said, referring to the Black man whose killing by police in Minneapolis in May sparked protests around the world, including here in Ottawa.

Consultation on renaming Rideau-Goulbourn would have been an chance to educate, advocate says

15 hours agoVideo1:15Sarah‌ ‌Onyango,‌ a board‌ ‌member‌ ‌with‌ ‌Black‌ ‌History‌ ‌Ottawa, says a formal discussion with constituents would have been an opportunity to talk about the history of the ward’s namesake, Henry Goulburn, and how the impact of slavery is still being felt today. 1:15

Browne‌ ‌agrees with Moffatt that there’s no need for formal public consultations about the name change.

‌‌”Let’s‌ ‌say‌ ‌they‌ ‌found‌ ‌out‌ ‌that‌ ‌the‌ ‌town‌ ‌was‌ ‌named‌ ‌after‌ ‌a‌ ‌former‌ ‌Nazi.‌ ‌Would‌ ‌they‌ ‌have‌ ‌a‌ ‌public‌ ‌conversation?” he asked. “‌I‌ ‌don’t‌ ‌think‌ ‌so, and‌ ‌that’s‌ ‌the‌ ‌same‌ ‌thing‌ ‌here.‌”

Rideau-Goulbourn councillor pushes to rename ward after discovering namesake’s racist history

15 hours agoVideo1:17Coun. Scott Moffatt, who represents the ward of Rideau-Goulbourn, says he’s advocating for a name change after learning namesake Henry‌ ‌Goulburn‌,‌‌ ‌‌a‌ ‌British‌ ‌statesman‌ ‌who lived from 1784-1856, owned hundreds of slaves in Jamaica. 1:17

Onyango disagrees, and believes that no matter how divisive, the issue deserves and demands a public reckoning.

“Instances‌ ‌like‌ ‌this‌ ‌are‌ ‌teaching‌ ‌moments,”‌ ‌she said. ‌”M‌aybe‌ ‌some‌ ‌[residents] ‌don’t‌ ‌know‌ ‌any‌ ‌people‌ ‌that‌ ‌look‌ ‌like‌ ‌me‌, ‌and‌ ‌have‌ ‌never‌ ‌known‌ ‌a‌ ‌family‌ ‌whose‌ ‌family‌ ‌history‌ ‌involves‌ ‌enslaved‌ ‌African‌ ‌people.”‌

Source: CBC News