More than 140 years old, the Prince of Wales bridge is a well-known landmark that connects Ottawa with Gatineau. After going out of service in 2001, the city purchased the bridge from Canadian Pacific Railway in 2005 with the intent of making it a future transit crossing. Earlier this month, city officials approved the renaming of the Prince of Wales Bridge to the Chief William Commanda Bridge—named after a well-known and well respected Algonquin elder, spiritual leader and former chief of the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation (1951-1970)—as part of reconciliation efforts.
I’m very excited that Council has approved the City funding for the rehabilitation of the Prince of Wales Bridge into a pathway for walking, cycling and x-country skiing, as well as its renaming to the Chief William Commanda Bridge. Merci à vous tous de votre appui! pic.twitter.com/8oLSiCHgEY
— Jim Watson (@JimWatsonOttawa) July 7, 2021
While no longer in operation, the bridge remains a popular landmark and is frequently visited by locals. In 2016, the city decided to erect a gate around the bridge. Aileen Duncan, a contributor to Apt613 and Ottawa local who spent a lot of her time around the bridge, took action to prevent this.
“When the news went out that the city was planning on installing a gate to block off access to this bridge, I started a petition in order to try to convince the city not to do so,” says Duncan during a phone interview.
In a matter of days, Duncan’s petition went viral, drawing attention from members of both the Ottawa and Gatineau communities who recognized the importance of the bridge and wanted to see it used.
“I like to think I’ve been one of the public voices on this issue that has been speaking about why it’s important and making sure that politicians don’t forget about it and know that it is a matter of importance for the Ottawa and Gatineau communities,” says Duncan.
“It raises awareness that we’re not just a people of history, and that we’re not just relegated to history books or museums. We are a people that have been here and we continue to be here,”
Although the gates still went up, Duncan continued to research the bridge and follow news relating to it. When the bridge’s renaming was announced, Duncan says she approved of the decision.
“I think it’s an excellent choice. I did a bit of research into the person they’ve named it after and he [Chief Willian Commanda] seemed like a really impressive person who has been engaged with Ottawa for a long time for various different issues, in particular environmental protection,” says Duncan. “In this age of reconciliation, it makes more sense to have a landmark named after someone who has traditional ties to this area, not just a monarch.”
As part of the reconciliation efforts, Mayor Watson consulted with several indigenous elders on the renaming of the bridge. This includes Chief William Commanda’s granddaughter, Elder Claudette Commanda, the Chief Executive Officer for the First Nations Confederacy of Cultural Education Centres, who was pleased to hear about the bridge being renamed after her grandfather.
“It was a nice action by the mayor and city councillors to acknowledge my grandfather in this specific way,” says Commanda during a phone interview. “Not only was he a magnificent master canoe builder, but he was also a builder of bridges, of people, and promoting justice, equality and respect amongst all people. So, I believe that this bridge can signify that. It’s a pathway to healing and people will walk towards building peace and harmony amongst one another and showing that respect.”
Commanda emphasized that the renaming of the bridge helps to acknowledge the continuing existence of the Algonquin Nation and promotes awareness of their history and their connection to the land. In the long term, Commanda hopes that the bridge will promote further education and awareness about her grandfather and the rest of the Algonquin Nation.
“It raises awareness that we’re not just a people of history, and that we’re not just relegated to history books or museums. We are a people that have been here and we continue to be here,” says Commanda. “But so importantly, it’s to raise that awareness of Algonquin people and who William Commanda was as an Algonquin man, as an Algonquin leader for his people, and as a leader for all peoples.”
Commanda says it’s vital for the Algonquin Nation and its people to continue being involved not just in this initiative, but all other reconciliation initiatives too.
“It’s important that the Algonquin people have to be involved with any and all reconciliation initiatives that the City of Ottawa is planning. And this goes beyond even just the naming of a bridge,” says Commanda. “Whether it’s renaming a bridge, putting up an art installation, or holding education or cultural workshops and celebrations, no matter what the initiatives are or the activities, Algonquin Nation must be involved.”
Along with building the pathway and restoring the piers, the city estimates that the cost for this initiative will be more than $22.6 million. The exact time for construction is currently to be determined, pending budget and permit approval.
For more information about the Chief William Commanda Bridge multi-use pathway and rehabilitation project, visit the City of Ottawa’s website.