Should we take township titles back to the future?

By MPP Toby Barrett

I somewhat sheepishly confess I do not know my ward number – never did, and am sure I never will. I know who my municipal councillor is, I know my lot and concession number, my 911 number, my postal code, my rural route number – but not my ward number.
Replacing bland, faceless ward numbers with the historical names of former townships seems like a good idea to me. It has recently sparked discussion and media on the pros and cons of going, “back to the future.”
The Norfolk Heritage Committee’s proposal to reach back into historic township territory, reminds us that for many years, the townships across Norfolk and Haldimand were important political and cultural divisions.
In one form or another, the names of Woodhouse, Middleton, Townsend, Charlotteville, both Walsinghams, Houghton and Windham could possibly again be used to represent Norkfolk’s wards.
And in Haldimand, where numbers also replaced long-established township titles, I often run into those referencing the former townships of Canborough, Dunn, Moulton, North Cayuga, Oneida, Rainham, Seneca, South Cayuga, Walpole, and Sherbrooke – the latter was the smallest township in Ontario.
With the advent of regionalism back in 1974, we lost place names like Charlotteville (incorporated 1795), and Port Dover, while gaining names like the City of Nanticoke and the Town of Haldimand. And with the return of the two counties, we also lost formal municipal names like Simcoe, and Dunnville.
Those who are old enough to remember may recall that the Regional Municipality of Haldimand-Norfolk Act, 1973 brought union without unity as the two self contained “county or district communities” within the Region remained. We then had 20 years of studies, petitions, municipal referenda and motions calling for alternatives to the forced marriage of old Norfolk and Haldimand. In the late 90’s those calls helped me convince then premier Mike Harris about the need to restore our historical two county system.

Many in Norfolk and Haldimand never accepted regional government in the first place. Local people still thought of themselves as being from Norfolk or from Haldimand – not from a region born of a shotgun marriage. With the forced union and long standing divisions percolating in 1998, many may recall it was a regional government tax hike of 17.9% that was the last straw to break the region’s back.
And so it was 12 years ago that I and our then government pushed forward with restructuring the former Haldimand-Norfolk Region back to the historical two-county structure. People made it clear to me at the time that the traditions and history of the two former counties should be preserved. But unfinished business remains – the restructuring still left us with I.D. numbers rather than names for the territories represented by our municipal councillors.
As Norfolk heritage chair Ross Bateman noted, the numbered system is not only unimaginative, but it misses an opportunity to incorporate important facets of the past into the everyday lives of county residents today.
For my part I watch with interest, as varying options incorporating our historic township titles are tossed about. In my mind, tradition, history and values are important and deserve protection – the County of Norfolk goes back to 1790; Haldimand was established in 1850. I look forward to the preservation of these tenets concepts through the Norfolk Heritage Committee’s ward-name proposals.