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Public naming process needed for riverfront walkway pitched as 'Joni Mitchell Promenade': group Print-ready version

'Other people might have lots of other ideas for this,' says president of Saskatoon Heritage Society

by Guy Quenneville
CBC News
April 29, 2018

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The Saskatoon Heritage Society says there should be a public naming process for the prominent riverfront walkway the city wants to name the "Joni Mitchell Promenade."

"It's really important that there is a consensus to something that's such a focal point for the city," said Peggy Sarjeant, the society's president.

The proposal unveiled last week would see a stretch of Saskatchewan Crescent East leading to the Remai Modern Art Museum named after Mitchell, who grew up in the city.

Sarjeant said the society hasn't taken a position on the merits of honouring Mitchell that way, just that the public should be involved as it was with the naming of the North Commuter Parkway bridge.

"Other people might have lots of other ideas for this," said Sarjeant.

Singer called city 'very unwordly'

Mitchell and her family moved to Saskatoon when she was nine and she took piano lessons there before eventually performing as an artist, according to her official website, jonimitchell.com.

But Mitchell has had an uneasy relationship with the city in recent years.

In a 2013 interview with the Saskatoon Star Phoenix, Mitchell called the city "very isolated, very unworldly."

"Saskatoon's always been an extremely bigoted community. It's like the deep south," she said.

For years, a local group tried to organize a museum to honour the singer. Those plans fell through in 2013. Eventually Mitchell said she didn't want any tribute to be built and asked for cultural artifacts to be returned to her.

The Beaverton, a Canadian news satire publication, poked fun at the stop-start efforts in 2014, joking that Saskatoon now planned to name a parking lot after Mitchell.

'Saskatoon tries again'

Jonimitchell.com immediately posted about the promenade proposal Thursday under the heading "Saskatoon tries again."

"City council and others in the community have struggled for years to find a suitable way to honour her," the website wrote.

Mayor Charlie Clark told media Friday that a group that's in contact with Mitchell said she supports the promenade idea.

CBC News has reached out to a Beverly Hills-based business management group listed for Mitchell for official comment from Mitchell herself.

'Less expensive than a museum'

A sampling of opinions from pedestrians walking along the promenade Sunday afternoon found several people endorsing the idea.

"That's cool," said Shaun Pawluk, adding that a "Joni Mitchell Promenade" would likely attract tourists.

"Good idea," echoed Gary Sohnchen. "She's from here and we haven't really done anything to honour her at all."

(Mitchell has not gone un-feted here: the Mendel Art Gallery showcased her art in 2000, with Mitchell showing up for the opening.)

"It would be less expensive than building a museum," offered Penny Spencer, who admitted to not being familiar with Mitchell before recent news coverage of the promenade naming proposal.

"I don't feel all that warm to the idea," said Chris Williams. "She may be associated with Saskatoon and I can respect her for being a talented individual from this region but she only comes in occasionally.

"I don't really think that her heart and soul is here anymore."

City councillors are slated to talk about the naming proposal some time after 1 p.m. at city hall Monday.

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