Halifax response to naming of Newfie Lane astounds expatriate

Barb Sweet bsweet@thetelegram.com
Published on September 17, 2013
A signpost marks the beginning of Newfie Lane in Middle Sackville, a community of the Halifax Regional Municipality.
— Laura Bartlett/Special to The Telegram

The City of Halifax has a street named Newfie Lane, and when a Halifax woman who is from St. John’s learned of the Middle Sackville street name and complained, the city replied there’s no policy against offensive names.

“I appreciate this may not be the response you wished for, but for clarification the current Civic Addressing Policy criteria does not exclude potentially derogatory or offensive street names,” Jane Cooper, development operations manager for the Halifax Regional Municipality, replied to the ex-pat in an email.

The gravel lane is private, but the city mandated it be named. It’s unclear when that officially happened, but the process began in 2011. There are a few houses on the street and its name appears to have been suggested by residents at the time who were from Newfoundland.

“The name meets all the criteria set out in the guidelines of street naming and therefore was duly approved by staff,” the city official told the woman.

The woman, who does not want to be named, initially wrote to her city councillor expressing her dismay about Newfie Lane.

“I was looking in the paper today and noticed an advertisement for a house listing on ‘Newfie Lane.’  I was surprised as I was raised in Newfoundland and was brought up (as with virtually everyone I know) to view ‘Newfie’ as a extremely derogatory term relating to Newfoundlanders. My husband and I assumed that it was a typo in the advertisement, but apparently there is a street in Middle Sackville with this name,” the woman wrote to her councillor.

“I recognize that there are some people who find the term more comical than offensive, but frankly that is not how it is perceived by many Newfoundlanders.”

“It is viewed as particularly insulting and offensive when used by someone not from Newfoundland.”

Halifax Coun. Linda Mosher wrote back she was unaware of the street name, and sought an explanation for her constituent by passing on the concern to the manager of civic addressing, who passed it on to another official.

The St. John’s native told The Telegram she was astounded at the reply and said it’s soured her on Halifax, the city she’s lived in now for more than a decade.

“I was hurt by this,” she said. “I love Newfoundland. It bothers me that someone could get this through the system with very little resistance.”

The city response further stated that because she doesn’t live on the street, she can’t ask the city to rename it.

“There’s no provision to change the name if it does slip through the cracks and someone is offended by it,” the ex-pat said.

But she’s not leaving the issue alone, nor the city’s policy that appears not to guard against offence. In her email correspondence with the city, she even sent links explaining the issue surrounding use of the word “Newfie.”

“I felt shot down by the representative from planning,” she said of the official response. “In today’s day and age this is not acceptable. … It wasn’t resolved the way I thought it would be resolved.”

And she wants to see the policy change.

“I’m hoping that where there’s a will, there’s a way. I don’t know how that impacts Newfie Lane. Is that going to be there for the rest of my life? That’s going to be there and I’m going to be seeing ads in the paper and it’s going to eat away at me. … But I don’t see this as being over. I want this to be addressed.”

Real estate agent Melanie Leblanc told The Telegram that she’s gotten lots of response to the listing.

“People like the name. They think it’s funny,” said Leblanc, who added she wasn’t aware there was a negative implication. She said some of the interest in the split level home has come from Newfoundlanders.

Leblanc said as far as she knows, the lane was originally called Rosemary Drive, until the city wanted it changed.

While the St. John’s native acknowledged there are some people who like calling themselves Newfie, she said it’s the negative connotation — in the vein of Newfie jokes and poking fun — that’s hard to take for so many more.

“I’m quite bothered by it all. I’m more than a little frustrated,” she said.

“People are not flattered by it.”

Brendan Elliott, a spokesman for the Halifax Regional Municipality, said the four original  residents of the road wanted Newfie Lane because of their ties to the province.

"I guess that in itself is the difficulty," Elliott said, noting what's  objective or offensive can be in the eye of the beholder.

"It's a tough area to go to. What might be offensive to one person may not be to another."

Elliott said it would take a unanimous vote by the lane's residents to change the name.

Otherwise he said the offended St. John’s native can lobby council to have the rules of the street naming policy changed.

A typo in this article has been corrected