News / Toronto

Forget Spadina Road, it's Ishpadinaa: Toronto street signs highlight indigenous history

Project using Toronto street signs to put indigenous history in the spotlight.

Street signs bearing Anishinaabe names have started propping up in the city’s west end. Ishpadinaa, the original version of the current Spadina, means “a place on a hill.”

Eduardo Lima / Metro Order this photo

Street signs bearing Anishinaabe names have started propping up in the city’s west end. Ishpadinaa, the original version of the current Spadina, means “a place on a hill.”

A local project is trying to remind people of Toronto’s indigenous history, one street sign at a time.

Susan Blight and Hayden King started the Ogimaa Mikana project back in 2013 when the Idle No More movement was making waves across the country. Inspired by the level of engagement, they wanted to take things further and revive indigenous language.

“Indigenous languages are really connected to our identity,” said Blight, noting Canada hasn’t assimilated indigenous people’s languages into its history and policies — a move that had a “devastating effect” on their preservation.

“So we were looking for some ways to restore our languages while inserting our presence in the city,” she said.

For the past three years, the project has involved adding stickers with the Anishinaabee language to street signs and historic plaques across the city. But, none of the stickers were sanctioned by the city and were removed shortly after they went up.

That was until recently when the Dupont BIA agreed to cooperate and mount permanent signs bearing indigenous names. At least four signs have gone up, combining the English and the Anishinaabe versions of the street name.

Eduardo Lima/ Metro

"Gete-Onigaming" means “at the old portage,” alluding to Davenport Road's history as a trail between the Don and Humber rivers.

The group hopes to continue working with other parts of the city to get more permanent signs installed — all of which can serve as a constant reminder that indigenous people were, and still are, here.

“As a member of the First Nations, I would say Toronto hasn’t really done a great job of recognizing the indigenous history of this land,” said Blight, student life coordinator at the University of Toronto’s First Nations House. “People may not understand the language, but they will be intrigued to learn a little bit more about our history.”