Most people would not know that Cobourg’s West Headland has the official name of Langevin Pier but in the late 1800’s, when the western headland was built, it was called a “pier” and named the Langevin Pier. This was of course named after Sir Hector Langevin who was a Father of Confederation, and a minister of Public Works at the time. But unfortunately, he was also a man of his times and was a chief architect of Canada’s residential school system, which aimed to “eliminate aboriginal people as distinct peoples and to assimilate them into the Canadian mainstream against their will.” He specifically argued in favour of removing children from their parents and family in order to speed assimilation. That makes Cobourg residents Meghan Sheffield and Nicole Beatty want to rename the “pier”.
There are a few places on the web where the West Headland is called the Langevin Pier – see the links below. The earliest reference is to a publication of Sessional Papers of the Parliament of the Dominion of Canada, Volume 23, Issue 13 – 1890 by Google Books. This recounts some of the work done on the harbour and the relevant portion says:
In 1873 a contract was entered into for the construction of a pier 1,500 feet in length, 30 feet wide, from the foot of Hibernia street, and the work was completed in 1876, towards the cost of which the Harbour Trust contributed.
In 1881-82 a further extension of this pier, in a south easterly direction, was placed under contract and completed in 1883.
The works carried out during the fiscal year 1888-89 consisted in the reconstruction of the superstructure of the outer 150 feet of the Langevin or western pier, under a contract with Mr. J. W. Dinwoodie.
There seems to be no record of why it was called Langevin or exactly when. Other references don’t give sources but seem to take the name for granted; Meghan and Nicole quote the Vince Versace article from 2005 which is available on the Cobourg history site.
This year there have been other places renamed from Langevin – notably Calgary’s Langevin Bridge and the Prime Minister’s and Privy Council Offices so it’s suggested that this year Cobourg should join them and set an example.
In a presentation to Council at their next Committee of the Whole Meeting on October 2, Meghan and Nicole plan to ask Council to agree to rename the “pier” and consult with Alderville Elders and Chief Marsden on what indigenous name the West Pier should bear.
They agree that the pier is not a museum but say that it is an important historic site. I don’t recall anyone referring to it by any name other than West Headland so it’s hard to see how it offends anyone. But then changing the name shouldn’t offend anyone either. Town staff are recommending that the matter be referred back to them for a report. Perhaps their first job should be to see if any of Cobourg’s records use the name Langevin pier!
Places where Langevin Pier is mentioned
- Sessional Papers of the Parliament of the Dominion of Canada, Volume 23, Issue 13 – 1890 – Google Books
- Cobourg History – Waterfront History
- Cobourg east pierhead
- Virtual Museum