“It’s not something we’re looking to do,” Amherst Mayor Dr. David Kogon said following council’s Sept. 18 committee-of-the-whole meeting. “Amherst was a name given to this town many years ago and it’s our brand. That doesn’t mean we agree with some of the activities of General Amherst participated in, but that still doesn’t give us an appetite to change the name of our town. History is history.”
Amherst is named for British Gen. Jeffrey Amherst, who was the commanding general of British forces in North America during the final battles of the Seven Years War, including the siege of Fort Louisbourg. His reputation, however, has been tarnished by stories of smallpox-infected blankets being given to native Americans.
Kogon said despite this, entering into the discussion about changing the town’s name is just not realistic considering how much it would cost financially to make the change. He also feels it would cause hardship to business in the community.
Also, he said, Jeffrey Amherst is not what Amherst is about today.
“We have been, are and will continue to be the Town of Amherst,” Kogon said. “In no way does it mean we support what he did to the Indigenous population. We are a very open, welcoming and nurturing town when it comes to our multicultural population.”
Last week, Montreal’s mayor, Denis Coderre promised to remove the Amherst name from a street in his city in order to move toward reconciliation.
While Amherst won’t change its name, a Mi’kmaq elder from Prince Edward Island suggested the town do something of its own to reconcile its namesake’s history. He suggests placing a plaque somewhere in the town to inform people just who Jeffrey Amherst was and what he did. He’s also suggesting the town do something to celebrate its own native culture and heritage.
“We’re not trying to change history, we’re trying to have history told. What do you think the Jewish people would think if someone tried to name their town after Adolf Hitler?” asked Dr. John Joe Sark, who has been leading an effort to get Parks Canada to change the name of Fort Amherst outside Charlottetown. “(Jeffrey) Amherst tried to exterminate our people. He believed the Indigenous People weren’t human. That’s the excuse he used to try to exterminate them.”