Instead of a city entrance sign to honour singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell, perhaps someone could write a song.
It could be called The Ballad of Why It Seems So Difficult to Honour Deserving People by Naming Something in Saskatoon After Them. Sure, that’s unwieldy, but not much worse than the Senator Sidney L. Buckwold Bridge. Yes, that’s the bridge’s proper name, bestowed decades before the Senate spending scandal.
Saskatoon city council’s continuing struggle to find a suitable, consistent way to honour people reappeared last week when a woman wrote to council suggesting a highway sign identify Saskatoon as Joni Mitchell’s home.
Tisdale, with a population of just over 4,000, has bestowed this honour on comedian Brent Butt. A City of Saskatoon official suggested the City of Bridges is too big to honour a single person this way.
For Saskatoon, however, finding a way to honour Mitchell has proved bizarrely elusive. Mitchell herself asked in 2013 for a collection of memorabilia in the city to be returned and stressed she wanted nothing to do with any future attempts to honour her.
Naming municipal property can be challenging because once you slap a name on a bridge, street or park, it’s tough to remove it.
The aforementioned Tisdale proudly proclaimed itself the Land of Rape and Honey for six decades before finally changing its slogan last August. (Five points if you can recall the new town slogan.)
Joni Mitchell stands out as an obvious omission when it comes to honouring people in Saskatoon, but she’s certainly not alone.
Lorne Figley, however, nearly 93, has been recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s oldest active plumber. He’s on track to be approved to have a street or park named for him.
Nothing wrong with honouring people like Figley — he’s also a Second World War veteran — but it helps underline those who have yet to receive any official tribute.
The naming of the Gordie Howe Bridge seemed to be a smooth, quick process last year as Saskatoon’s newest span now bears the name of the city’s favourite son. The unveiling of the new bridge also provided a key photo op for incumbent councillors, which took place egregiously during the official civic election campaign period.
But residents might forget the naming of the former Circle Drive South Bridge, which opened in 2013, perplexed council for years. An attempt by former councillor Tiffany Paulsen to try to stage a naming contest became ensnarled in suggestions city administration was trying to sabotage the idea with exorbitant cost estimates.
All it took was Howe’s death last June and a pending election to motivate council.
New Mayor Charlie Clark has vowed to improve the way Saskatoon names stuff. Clark tried unsuccessfully as a councillor to wrest the power to apply names from his predecessor, Don Atchison.
Clark thought that power should not rest with a single person. Atchison certainly provided fuel for that belief. Seventeen years after Henry Dayday, who has criticized Atchison in two aborted mayoral campaigns, lost his last election after 12 years as mayor and 24 on council, not a single street in Saskatoon bears his name.
Sid Buckwold, who spent less time as mayor and on council, has a bridge, a park and a theatre in TCU Place named for him. In addition to the bridge, Howe has a statue, an arena, a ballpark and a football field.
Roy Romanow lacks any such honour, despite helping draft the Canadian constitution, serving as a Saskatoon MLA for three decades and Saskatchewan premier for a decade.
The list of worthy candidates always gets longer.
Like Dayday, Atchison is one of the city’s longest-serving council members at 22 years and represented the city as mayor for longer than anyone else. Defeated council candidate Pat Lorje spent 34 years representing Saskatoon as a councillor and an MLA.
Lorje, intriguingly, said she she wants nothing named for her.
Little wonder that a 2016 poll suggested Saskatoon residents back selling naming rights for civic infrastructure. Might as well make some money if we can’t figure out a way to honour our civic heroes and builders.
Council is also trying to apply more aboriginal names, including on the new north commuter bridge.
How to honour Mitchell, though? A parking lot? Tree museum? How about a really, really big yellow taxi on the outskirts of the city? Or maybe wait until she’s dead and there’s a civic election.
Mitchell herself said it best: ” You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.”
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