Americans might be heading to the polls in record numbers this month, but north of the border, citizens of a small Canadian town have been voting on a far more seismic issue. The town of Asbestos – yes, really – has successfully changed its name to Val-des-Sources, after almost half of its 6000 residents turned out for a parking lot-based "car vote" in mid-October. But the name that swung it only joined the race less than two weeks before, beating off several fancied contenders in the process.
There was such controversy around the original proposals put forward by the municipal council that the Asbestos debate quickly turned toxic – meaning that a new load of suggestions had to be rushed out to placate locals. The city initially grew from the development of an asbestos mine, after a large deposit of the substance was discovered there in 1897. For decades, the town thrived on asbestos mining and product manufacturing. The substance is naturally occurring but is also very toxic. It had previously been used to insulate houses, though, in 2018, Canada introduced legislation that banned such measures. The best Online casinos in Canada can be found here.
When inhaled or ingested, asbestos fibres often become trapped in the body, and may eventually cause genetic damage to the body's cells. Exposure can also cause mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer. The decision to change the town's name was made in November 2019, as the negative connotations have long been hindering business and tourism endeavours. "As citizens are the ambassadors of a municipality and are the representatives of its vitality, it was obvious that the public would be involved in the process and the choice of the new name," Mayor Hugues Grimard asserted.
The original four proposals were revealed in September 2020, they were: Apalone, Jeffrey, Phénix and Trois-Lacs. There were cries on social media complaining of a "lack of transparency" regarding the council's choices. The disharmony was such that the City of Asbestos' general manager Georges-André Gagné was forced on September 16 to issue a second statement, "calling for a constructive and respectful debate." As is evident, there is a clear French influence on the proposed names, which is a nod to the history of the region, as well as the genetic makeup of the populous.
The new line-up of six names was revealed on October 2: L'Azur-des-Cantons, Jeffrey-sur-le-Lac, Larochelle, Phénix, Trois-Lacs and Val-des-Sources. Val-des-Sources, meaning "Valley of the Springs" and referring to the town's location close to the sources of three lakes, was a clear winner with 51.5% of the vote. To quote the towns own description, it is a name that represents “the fusion of our history and our roots”.
The new name was first revealed live on Facebook, and this time, the response was overwhelmingly positive. Local Geneviève Lussier took to the site to praise the socially distanced "car vote" system and added, "Merci d'avoir permis la democracie" ("Thank you for allowing democracy.") There are those, however, who will miss the old town name, despite its foibles. Citizen Ginette Frichette during the September upset proudly bellowed "I'm against the name change. I was born in Asbestos and I want to die in Asbestos."
While some will continue to rail against the decision, it would seem that the change has, by and large, been a success. Asbestos is just one of many towns to undergo a name change due to negative connotations. Not all communities are quite so accommodating, however. Elsewhere in Canada, the unfortunately titled town of ‘Swastika’, Ontario is refusing to follow suit – much to the dismay of some locals. One suspects that future inhabitants of Val-Des-Sources will be grateful that their ancestors weren’t quite so stubborn.