Friday, 1 August 2014

The name game: What about the "Drewry Bridge" ?

Redwood Bridge

So, I'm going to post about something I've moaned about before: renaming things.

Last month the Redwood Bridge was renamed the Harry Lazarenko Bridge. Some questioned the need for the renaming and the lack of any process or input as to who it should be renamed for. The time between the suggestion and final decision took just days, so there wasn't any chance for that discussion to take root.

Though politicians sometimes hum and haw when trying to explain a renaming and the mysterious process, the fact is that it's one of the nifty perqs of political office, especially in recent years. Want a guaranteed photo op with a local celebrity or athlete who just made a splash in the media ? Want to endear yourself to the supporters of your political predecessor ? Want to hope that maybe one day something will be named in your honour ? Pull out a map and fast track a renaming.

Bobby Hull Display

To maintain their integrity, many institutions and Halls of Fame have a formal nomination process that is open to the public and a stipulation that some length of time has to have  passed so that an accomplishment or career can be looked back upon objectively. Check out the Winnipeg Citizens' Hall of Fame nomination process and the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame's.

Even after all that scrutiny, those chosen don't get a multimillion dollar building or bridge named after them and, you know what, that's alright. (Prior to this last minute brain wave, the committee was considering naming one of the gardens at Kildonan Park for Lazarenko, but that was thought too shabby.)

A formal, open and even slightly independent process, of course, is something city politicians would not really want to see. Not only would it hinder their ability to fast track their own renaming ideas, or, more likely in the case of the mayor, pick up the phone and tell the administration you want x renamed, it also saves the possibly being pitted against some historical society, Hall of Fame or family who might have their own ideas as to what x should be named for. Not a comfortable place to be.

This isn't to disparage Izzy Asper, Milt Stegall, Cindy Klassen, Jill Officer, Clara Hughes, Jonathan Toews Harry Lazarenko, Bill Clement, Slaw Rebchuk, Jacob Penner, and their accomplishments. It should be harder, though, to get an asset like these named for someone than it is to get a plaque on a wall at a hall of fame or your head in Assiniboine Park.

The Winnipeg Falcons deserve better

The odd Winnipegger who is not a sports celebrity or former council colleague has managed to slip through council's fingers recently. In 1990 Water Avenue, plus a library, have been renamed for William Stevenson, though he has a pretty intrepid group of supporters on his side. More recently, a St. Vital Park was renamed for dedicated soccer volunteer Riccardo De Thomasis. Still, unless you're a former city councillor or jump from the sports page to the front page in the 2010s, chances are you're out of luck getting something named for you.

There will be a lot of talk about "transparency and openness" at city hall in the months ahead. Though this is a small matter in comparison to corrupt land dealings, I hope that someone has the gumption to correct it before some city politician has a brain wave over breakfast one morning that instead of Kildonan Park and Assiniboine Park, they'd rather see tributes to Drew Willy and John Angus.

Edward and Frederick Drewry

I can't name something after someone, but say I was on council and was told we simply HAD to rename the Redwood Bridge in the next week, what name would I choose ? Probably Drewry Bridge.

The Drewry Brothers, Edward and Frederick, took over the Redwood Brewery and turned it into one of Winnipeg's largest. It sat just metres from the bridge. I wouldn't name it after them for their business prowess or geography, but for their vision that Winnipeggers still owe them a debt of gratitude for.

 - They owned the land that became the Redwood Bridge's right of way and donated it to the city. (I wonder how many businesses donated land for the Disraeli bridge expansion or Bill Clement Parkway ?!)

- Frederick W. Drewery, an avid cyclist, believed in the positive benefits of outdoor activity within a city, regardless of one's walk of life. He wanted to see a city-wide network of separated, lit, treed paths  "...so that the working man could go to his work on them.... In twenty-five trips he could save, by (street) car fares, the price of the tax." As head of the city's Cycle Path Association, starting in 1898 he oversaw the construction of many kilometers of such paths until the city took over the network and began dismantling it in 1906.

Today, we are spending millions of dollars to recreate Frederick's original vision.

- Edward L Drewry was chair of the city's first parks board from 1893 - 1899. During the first year he pushed the city to think, and spend, big before development swallowed up available land. In a little over a year, they created the city's network of parks we now enjoy, including Fort Rouge Park, Central Park, Victoria Park, St. John’s Park, Selkirk Park, Dufferin Park, Notre Dame (Jacob Penner) Park and St. James (Vimy Memorial) Park. 

In 1894 a greenhouse and nursery was built in Notre Dame Park at which thousands of trees, many of them elms, started out before being planted in the parks and on city boulevards.

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