Letters & Opinion

Let’s think critically about what renaming the Sandy Hill Community Centre could mean for our neighbourhood

Bryan Dewalt

The City of Ottawa is considering a plan to drop the name Sandy Hill/Côte-de-Sable from our community centre. City Councillor Mathieu Fleury made brief reference to this matter at the Action Sandy Hill board meeting on February 28. As far as I know, this subject has not been raised in a public forum like IMAGE, and I think it requires far wider discussion before the proposal goes any further.

Losing the historic Sandy Hill name on the centre would be a loss to this critical neighbourhood institution and a blow to our community identity. Generations of local children have attended playgroups, after-school programs, and summer camps at the community centre. Older children and young adults have found part-time work there. Adults of all ages have taken advantage of its recreation programs and meeting spaces. And of course, as citizens we have gone there to vote.

Having Sandy Hill in the name evokes a common geography and history that firmly links the centre to the community it serves. Moreover, the name is inclusive, non-political, and non-commercial. It does not commemorate any individual or group who might now, or in the future, be perceived as problematic or divisive. And it does not associate the centre with a corporate brand, as has happened to some suburban community centres in Ottawa (e.g. the “Northwind Wireless Fibe Centre” in Constance Bay). Any plan to remove such a resonant name from the community centre must be supported by a very compelling argument.

At the ASH board meeting in February, Councillor Fleury argued that the name is too similar to the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre, and this has caused such confusion that emergency personnel called to the health centre are arriving instead at the community centre. Although the health centre is ‘younger’ than the community centre and serves an area far wider than Sandy Hill, it is incorporated and provincially funded. According to Councillor Fleury, this makes renaming the health centre difficult.

This is indeed a problem that needs to be addressed, but it is not clear that renaming our community centre is the best or most fair approach. I will set aside the question of whether renaming either institution really addresses the underlying issue.

If the community health centre continues to move toward serving a city-wide population, it might be time to align its name more clearly with its mandate. This should be possible without rewriting its enabling legislation, through following the example of many other corporations that have adopted operating or “brand” names that better reflect new priorities. Renaming the community centre instead shifts the burden from an institution that seems to have outgrown its identity to a local community that is working hard to preserve its own.

Sandy Hill already faces challenges in maintaining a sense of community, as it struggles against forces that seem intent on re-engineering our neighbourhood as an aggregate of downtown housing units to provide short-term accommodation to a mobile population.

In recent years we have lost several important Sandy Hill institutions, including All Saints Anglican Church, St. Paul’s-Eastern United Church, and the Sandy Hill Minor Hockey Association. Let’s stop the erosion by keeping the Sandy Hill name on the community centre. Under the City of Ottawa’s commemorative naming policy, any member of the public or City Council may propose the renaming of a municipal street, park, or facility. The policy provides for a 30-day public consultation period, assessment by a Commemorative Naming Committee composed of city staff and elected officials, and final approval by City Council. This process should not begin before we have a full and public debate on whether to rename the community centre at all.

Bryan Dewalt lives on Blackburn Avenue.