The name of the Cornish Library will be reassessed due to its namesake’s troubling history with Métis people.
The facility is named after Francis Evans Cornish, Winnipeg’s first mayor, who was elected to a one-year term in 1874. Cornish has been scrutinized for his actions, with historians describing him as a racist and a bully. He was part of a mob that "ransacked" a St. Boniface polling station in 1872 and fought a group of unarmed Métis people before assaulting police, according to the Manitoba Historical Society.
He also helped arrest Ambroise Lepine, a key participant in the provisional government of Métis leader Louis Riel, and profited from doing so.
On Thursday, during the official reopening of Cornish Library at 20 West Gate after a $3.47-million renovation, Coun. Sherri Rollins said the issue can’t be ignored.
"It’s named after the first mayor of the City of Winnipeg, one that has a very difficult history, Mayor Cornish, in particular with the Métis people. (He was a) Métis hater… really problematic when it comes to Métis people," said Rollins, council’s protection and community services chairperson.
Rollins said the violence noted in his history also sparks concern.
"I’m not sure what you call it when you get a gang of thugs to beat up people in St. Boniface… but that’s also part of the documented history of Cornish. That, I think, needs to be acknowledged and it’s one of the things that we’re working on with community," she said.
Rollins said the Cornish name is being discussed by the Winnipeg Public Library Board, which plans to consult with Métis people over how it should be addressed. At this point, it’s not yet being considered through the Welcoming Winnipeg: Reconciling our History process, which considers requests to remove, replace or add written context to city-owned property, including plaques, statues, and buildings.
That policy was created as part of the city’s path to reconciliation, with the goal of addressing names that negatively affect the Indigenous community.
Rollins said she doesn’t want to rush the discussions to make an immediate recommendation on how the moniker should be addressed.
"Truth needs to come before reconciliation and you actually have to know the full truth of Cornish. A lot of people aren’t familiar (with him)," she said.
If a Welcoming Winnipeg request is made to alter the name, it would be considered by a committee of community members, who would make a recommendation to city council.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.