Sounds familiar: In 1848, Sir John Franklin, his ships frozen in the ice, succumbs to
hunger and cold as his crew withers away searching for the Northwest Passage.

Less well-known is his history in Yellowknife, which is more tenuous. Roughly 200 years ago, the explorer passed through the area, according to columnist Roy Erasmus.
And for his trouble, Franklin was immortalized on the city’s main drag and one of its schools. His expedition went further, naming landmarks like Marten Lake, Point Lake, and Fort Enterprise.

Some of the names proposed for Franklin Avenue include Weledeh Avenue, Akaitcho Avenue, or potentially Yellowknives Dene Avenue.
Nick Pearce / NNSL Photo

For surviving his early expeditions, Franklin was a hero in England. Meanwhile, Akaitcho, the Yellowknives Dene chief who saved him, was left with little recognition in Yellowknife – with the exception of Akaitcho Hall, which was later torn down.

Though, that’s far from the end of history.

Roy Erasmus suggested it’s time for a change in a column printed in our sister publication,
News/North, Nov. 4. The call to rethink local naming mirrors broader national conversations aimed reevaluating local history and how it’s remembered.

Not as easy as it sounds

According to Mayor Rebecca Alty, renaming an existing thoroughfare is a more
complex process than incorporating suggestions from the public for a brand new street,
road or alley.

She said street names and Indigenous representation have been a common theme as the City drafts its reconciliation action plan. Erasmus’ column was specifically referenced during a meeting related to the city’s reconciliation plan in Ndilo last week, she said.

“As part of our reconciliation action plan, one of the things that may come forward is street naming,” she said.

Residents can send in suggestions for future street names. The City has a database of these proposals, which it pulls from while building new streets. The suggestions inform city councillors when they make their decision.

Other leaders in the area think the time has come to reevaluate Franklin Avenue.
Chief Edward Sangris of Dettah, for one, said it was “about time something was done about (the issue).

“Sir. John Franklin just passed through here. He didn’t have an … impact on Yellowknife. He didn’t do anything for it,” he said.

Sangris said there were more appropriate names: people who made a difference in the
community, and in the city, “not just someone who passed by and documented his trip.”

In his column, Erasmus suggested Weledeh Avenue, Akaitcho Avenue, or even Yellowknives Dene Avenue.

“We need something to show this is the traditional Chief Drygeese Territory and traditional territory of Yellowknives Dene,” Sangris said, adding that flying the First Nation’s flag at City Hall was a step forward, while there is no YKDFN flag at the Legislative Assembly.

He said it was important this history was visible as more people move to and visit the city. Otherwise, it may be difficult to know the area’s full history.

“This is where Yellowknives have always been, even before this city existed,” he said.

Re-naming names

In the meantime, Alty encourages residents to suggest new street names that represent Indigenous community leaders and Indigenous residents who’ve made notable contributions in the Yellowknife area.

Additionally, Alty said the City has also sent letters to Yellowknives Dene First Nation,
Dene Nation, and the North Slave Metis Alliance to collect more names for consideration.

“I think it’s very important,” she said. “I don’t think we’ve done enough of it in the past. (We should) make sure going forward that we’re representing the history of the region and the important contributions of Indigenous residents today and in the past.”

In terms of renaming of Franklin Avenue, she said the City would have to consider the
logistics as well. The mayor referred to the fact that residents and businesses would have
to change things like letterhead and business cards, and Canada Post’s information would
have to be updated, too. Street signs, likewise, would have to be swapped out.

“We just want to make sure if we look at renaming streets, we take all of that into consideration,” she said.

Meanwhile, the City’s heritage committee, in consultation with YKDFN, has worked toward intercultural place-making. That involves pinpointing five areas including spaces like Pilot’s Monument, where sculptures or plaques could be placed to explain their significance from a YKDFN perspective.

Those updates are slated for early next year.

It’s always been Franklin Avenue

Coun. Stacie Smith told Yellowknifer that the City contacts YKDFN when establishing a new street to get its input on who they would suggest as a prominent family.

As for renaming the City’s main drag, she sees the logic.

Standing in her flower shop at Franklin and 48 Street, she said “Franklin Avenue has always been Franklin Avenue. But at the same time, I do understand. He just passed through
here. There’s other people that actually put a stamp on Yellowknife. But everyone’s always
known it as Franklin Avenue.”

As the City embarks on its reconciliation plan, she said it was vital to connect with YKDFN, which hasn’t received proper recognition.

“What’s always important is people realizing they have a voice. They can —if they feel that a family has been very influential in the city – write the city, write the councillors. We’re always open to suggestion,” she said. “That’s what we’re here for.”

That said, Smith added that reconnecting with this local history was important. Indigenous histories are intertwined with the development of the city. Recognizing that is vital.

“We talk about Indigenous culture and the heritage, but as soon as, for lack of a better word, white people came, (it) just kind of stops on the Indigenous histories. And then it proceeds with all the non-Indigenous people that are here.

“You don’t hear about the Drygeese, the Sangris, … the Rabescas. They just kind of get lost in the histories,” she said.

Nick Pearce

Nick Pearce is a writer and reporter in Yellowknife, looking for unique stories on the environment and people that make up the North. He's a graduate of Queen's University, where he studied Global Development...

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