Embracing reconciliation: Gatineau celebrates the inauguration of Wìgwàs Street
The City of Gatineau, in a meaningful step towards reconciliation with Aboriginal peoples, proudly inaugurated Wìgwàs Street on the afternoon of September 27th, renaming what was previously known as Amherst Street. The newly adopted name, “Wìgwàs,” translates to “white birch” in the Anishinabeg language. It is a significant symbol in Indigenous culture, representing their history, traditions, and craftsmanship.
This change serves to erase the lingering presence of Jeffery Amherst, a British army officer whose legacy is steeped in hostility and disdain towards the Aboriginal people, and the city hopes it represents a stride towards healing and acknowledgment of indigenous identities and contributions.
The transition to the new name, a meaningful symbol, was a proposal led by the elders of Kitigan Zibi. It was attended and celebrated by several elected officials, including Mayor France Bélisle, Hull-Wright Councilor Steve Moran, and Manoir-des-Trembles-Val-Tétreau Councilor Jocelyn Blondin.
In her remarks, Mayor Bélisle underscored the significance of renaming Amherst Street, emphasizing it as a substantial and poignant act to recognize and uplift the contributions of the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation. She conveyed, "Renaming this street, we are conveying a significant and impactful gesture to recognize and value the contributions of the First Nation Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg. Collectively, we propel the process of reconciliation forward and make Gatineau a city that is more embracing, considerate, and harmonious."
Frankie Cote, a representative from the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation band council, played a pivotal role in this transformative process and remarked on the symbolism and respect embedded in the new name. He articulated, "Wìgwàs is a reflection of our culture, our history, and our capabilities. It’s a tribute to the enduring presence and invaluable contributions of Indigenous peoples in our society, reflecting the wisdom and respect of our Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg elders."
This renaming was initiated based on a motion in 2021 by Councilor Myriam Nadeau, who has since withdrawn from her political role. The decision marks more than a transformation of a street name; it’s a gesture of acknowledgment and appreciation of the rich heritage and contributions of the First Nation Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg. It is a beacon signaling other societies to embrace inclusivity and respect for indigenous communities.
Photo caption: Symbol of Unity: The newly unveiled Wìgwàs street sign stands as a beacon of reconciliation and respect for the rich heritage of the Indigenous communities in Gatineau.
Photo credit: Courtesy of the CIty of Gatineau