City of Winnipeg renames park as Rooster Town to remember displaced Métis community

The City of Winnipeg says it wants to correct its past mistake by renaming a park in an area that was once home to a Métis community — until it was displaced by the city to make way for commercial and other development.

On Tuesday evening, Pan Am Pool Park — next to the Bill and Helen Norrie Library at 15 Poseidon Bay, in the Grant Park area — was officially renamed Rooster Town Park.

To mark the occasion, the city unveiled a new sign and plaque that details the area’s history. 

“They need to know what we did in the past and the errors … the horror stories that were there, but also the love that this neighborhood had for each other,” said River Heights-Fort Garry Coun. John Orlikow, who was at the unveiling. 

Rooster Town was a community that was formed in the late 1800s in the area that now includes Grant Park Shopping Centre, Grant Park High School, the Bill and Helen Norrie Library and the Pan Am Pool complex. Métis families who were pushed from their Red River homes formed the community, a City of Winnipeg history of the area says, and by 1911, it had grown to 42 families and was known as Rooster Town. 

But in the early 1950s, when the city began encouraging suburban development in the area, the city and media “reported false stories rooted in racist stereotypes” to drive the Rooster Town families out, the city’s website says. The last few houses were bulldozed and destroyed in 1960.

Orlikow said Tuesday there was “unanimous” consensus among Winnipeg’s city councillors that renaming was the right course of action to take. 

“We can tell people this story so a) we don’t do that again, and b) that we turn around some of that disrespect we showed to people and that they get respect,” he said. 

The City of Winnipeg unveiled a new plaque that showcases the history of Rooster Town, an area that was once home to a Métis community before the city displaced it to make way for commercial and other development. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Darrell Sais’s family lived in the area in the 1950s, and were among the many who were displaced. Sais attended Tuesday’s sign unveiling with his father, Frank, and said they were both glad to see it happen.

“My dad is finally saying he’s happy — it’s amazing to see him say that. So he’s starting to heal … which is good,” he said. 

Sais said that in June 1960, when his grandmother and father went to pay their taxes, they were told by the city they didn’t own the land anymore.

“It came as a complete shock to them,” he said.

“They went to city hall to see what was going on. No one actually told him anything. The only thing they told him was they had to be gone by September of 1960, so they quickly had to find a place to live.”

The displacement affected his family for a long time, said Sais.

“One of my aunties is still very upset about what happened to her.… She was about seven years old when this happened to her. They took her home away from her — so very traumatic.”

Reanna Merasty chairs the Welcoming Winnipeg committee. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Reanna Merasty chairs the committee of community members for the city’s Welcoming Winnipeg: Reconciling our History initiative. The group looks at renaming places to better reflect the history and contributions of Indigenous people in the city. 

The application for Rooster Town Park was one of the first the committee received in 2020, Merasty said.

“The one thing that grounded this application was making sure that it encompasses the aspect of the community … [and] it also honours Indigenous people and the perspectives and histories of the people that are within this community,” she said.

In September, the committee will put up new plaques to honour the survivors the Assiniboia Indian Residential School on Winnipeg’s Academy Road, she said, including the late Ted Fontaine — a First Nations elder, knowledge keeper and author who detailed abuses he suffered at residential schools.

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