News / Toronto

Public could mistake ‘Laura Secord’ building for candy store, feds feared

OTTAWA—Plans to rename a Toronto landmark ran into a sweet case of mistaken identity.

Federal officials wanted to rename a prominent federal property after Laura Secord but worried the building would be mistaken for the chocolate store, documents reveal.

As the Conservative sought ways to mark the bicentennial of the War of 1812 last year, they looked at renaming federal buildings in Quebec and Ontario after prominent personalities involved in the conflict.

On their list was the Dominion Public Building at 1 Front St. W. — the sprawling five-storey structure that dominates the streetscape between Yonge and Bay Sts.

Almost a year ago, Canadian Heritage, the department responsible for overseeing the bicentennial celebration, drew up a short list of properties to rename, according to documents obtained under the Access to Information Act.

Over the course of several months, officials debated names and locations, sought the advice of historians and finally juggled the demands of the Prime Minister’s Office, which delivered its own list of names it wanted honoured.

The Toronto site was to be named after Secord, who overheard Americans talking of plans to ambush a British outpost. Walking through fields and forests, she alerted the British to the pending attack.

Other candidates for renaming included 105 McGill St. in Montreal, after Charles de Salaberry, who led troops to repel Americans at the battle of Chateauguay in 1813. A Revenue Canada building in St. Catharines was picked to honour Sir Isaac Brock, who died at the Battle of Queenston Heights. Finally, officials proposed renaming an unidentified building — it’s been censored in the documents — after Tecumseh.

But just days after the proposed names were circulated, Ron Dale, the bicentennial project manager with Parks Canada, flagged trouble with several of the proposals.

In an email, Dale said he was not keen to name a building anywhere in Quebec or “east of London” after Tecumseh, a native American killed in 1813 in the Battle of the Thames, near Chatham, Ont.

“Tecumseh only fought one battle in Canada — the one in which he lost his life,” Dale writes in a memo.

“He did not lead any (First Nations) who lived in what is now Canada but a group of warriors who lived in American territory,” Dale wrote. “There is no connection whatsoever with Quebec.”

And then he took aim at the proposal to name 1 Front St. W. after Secord.

“Naming anything after Laura might confuse the building as a property of the chocolate company — the Laura Secord Building!” he wrote.

Dale also cautioned that any building in St. Catharines named after Brock could be mistaken for Brock University, located in the city.

After getting input, officials then decided Brock would be a good candidate for the Toronto landmark, Secord for the St. Catharines’ building and Tecumseh for the Montreal property, though they warned that the aboriginal leader had no connection to Quebec.

In the end, officials named the St. Catharines’ property as the Laura Secord Building; a building in Hamilton was named after Brock and the Montreal site was named after Dominique Ducharme, who played a role in several battles and was a pick of the Prime Minister’s Office.

Plans to rename the Toronto building were dropped after officials decided it had already had a name and said it would remain the Dominion Public Building.

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