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What's in a street name? Behind the changing face of Halifax

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Quick now, who was Gavin Rainnie? Rainnie Drive? Doesn't tinkle any bells? How about that short street that skirts the northern base of Citadel Hill from the new Common roundabout to the corner of Brunswick and Duke, the one thousands of us pass through daily to or from downtown?

If you don't faithfully follow city council debates, you may have missed its recent 15 minutes of infame.

City Council last week accepted a staff report renaming a portion of Rainnie -- from Duke Street to the corner of Rainnie and Gottingen -- to just "Gottingen." The decision, staff insist, follows "fairly straightforward, defined policies" so street names are "consistent for emergency response."

That might have been that, except we're talking about Gottingen Street. And that changes everything.

Grafton Developments is in mid-crane construction of an eight-storey, mixed commercial-residential development called The Pearl. The Pearl was to be at 5447 Rainnie Dr., but its address will now become 1901-03 Gottingen St.

In a letter to councillors, developer Jason Ghosn claims his company paid a "premium" for the site "in recognition of the heritage of the street name."



You may be forgiven if you didn't instantly know Maj. Gavin Rainnie was a soldier who died on D-Day in 1944. (If the name matters so much, you might ask, why didn't the developer call it "Rainnie Towers"? But that's another question.)

The real answer to the "Rainnie" question is not Rainnie, but Gottingen. Ghosn claims a Gottingen Street address would "adversely affect" the Pearl's "marketability and ultimately the profitability."

He isn't the first. Back in the 1980s, residents of Gottingen north of Young Street petitioned to have their street renamed to the meaningless Novalea Drive just so no one would confuse their fine middle-class neighbourhoods with the public-housing-social-service-drug-addled-boarded-up-and-well... Black district to the south.

That -- and not historic significance -- is behind Grafton's argument too.

Historic significance? Gottingen Street celebrated its 250th anniversary last year.

During last Tuesday's meeting Coun. Linda Mosher asked council to defer renaming the street while staff considered coming up with an entirely new and different name for the block -- historical significance anyone? -- but her motion, thankfully, was defeated 10–5.

This article first appeared in Stephen Kimber's Halifax Metro column.

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