The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) and B’nai Brith Canada are supporting some residents in the Ontario township of Puslinch, who want to rename a local street.
The Jewish groups and the residents agree that Swastika Trail is offensive.
The FSWC sent a letter to the township, which is located about 75 kilometres southwest of Toronto, urging officials to support residents who want to rename the street.
“The swastika as a name and a symbol is a reminder of the evil perpetuated by the Nazis,” said FSWC president and CEO Avi Benlolo.
“To this day, the swastika remains the most used symbol by neo-Nazi groups and continues to appear in anti-Semitic vandalism right across this country. It falls to the town leadership to send a clear message that such offensive names will not represent the community.”
B’nai Brith is circulating a petition urging the township’s council to change the name.
“This is your opportunity to stand on the right side of history and make your town a more welcoming place for all Canadians,” the petition says. “Despite its ancient origins, the swastika is unequivocally a modern symbol of racism, hatred and death.”
On Nov. 1, the local neighbourhood association voted by a slim majority to keep the name, saying that it’s been that way since the 1920s.
“Our trail has nothing to do with Hitler,” Lori Wyszynski, who owns the private road with her husband Paul, told the Kitchener-Waterloo Record. “It’s nothing to be ashamed about.”
But the FSWC noted that by the 1920s, the swastika was already used by the Nazi party as its symbol.
The swastika, an ancient Asian sign of good luck and auspiciousness, was used by proto-Nazi groups as early as 1914, and Adolf Hitler adopted it as the Nazi party’s emblem in 1920, according to Steven Heller, author of The Swastika: Symbol Beyond Redemption?
The name given to the road in the 1920s “was part of the fad around the swastika. I totally agree that at the time, it was a peaceful symbol associated with good fortune,” Jennifer Horton, who’s leading the name-change drive, told The CJN.
Today, though, “when we have to tell people our address or show anything that’s government-issued, we are somehow associating ourselves with a word that is, for most people, still associated with bigotry, anti-Semitism, intolerance and neo-Nazis,” said Horton, a retired teacher who’s lived on Swastika Trail since 2008.
Those who support keeping the name “hide behind this ancient symbol and they talk about reclaiming the swastika. But the swastika is not being reclaimed. It’s still associated in most people’s minds with negativity,” Horton said.
The street has about 30 houses and 55 residents, she said.
Horton has launched an online survey to gauge opinions. She said she has “strong support” from the general public to change the name.
“This argument isn’t going away on the street,” she noted. “We feel our leaders should take leadership and solve this problem.”
Residents defeated a proposal to change the name in 1996.
Last July, a resident asked the township to change the street’s name, but for a different reason.
‘The swastika is unequivocally a modern symbol of racism.’
She cited confusion over the fact that the roadway starts out as Travelled Road, then curves west and becomes Swastika Trail, then becomes Cedar Trail.
“For emergency services and deliveries to this area, it is critical that it has one name,” she wrote.
According to reports, Puslinch Mayor Dennis Lever said a staff report on the matter would be given to councillors on Dec. 6. A public discussion will take place before council on Dec. 20, when a vote may happen.
Ontario’s Municipal Act allows a municipality to change the name of a private road after giving public notice of its intention to pass the bylaw.
Some years ago, the Canadian Jewish Congress raised the issue of Swastika Avenue in the northern Ontario village of Swastika, now part of the town of Kirkland Lake. The village was named after a local gold mine in 1907. In 1940, its residents rejected changing its name to Winston.