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Canadian town of Asbestos chooses new name

(CNN) – It was one of the most controversial elections in North America that year.

But almost eleven months after the poll was announced and after a last-minute shock change, the city of Asbestos, Quebec, has a new name.

Almost half of the city’s roughly 6,000 residents opted for a parking-based “car vote” in mid-October, and the new name – Val-des-Sources – was announced on Monday.

But the name it swung only came into the race less than two weeks ago.

The local council’s original proposals were so controversial that the asbestos debate quickly became toxic – and a new set of proposals had to be brought out to reassure locals.

Mining history

The city originally grew out of the development of an asbestos mine around a large deposit of the substance discovered there in 1897. For decades, the city lived from asbestos mining and product manufacture.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring but very toxic substance that used to be widely used for insulation. It has been banned in Canada since 2018.

When inhaled or ingested, asbestos fibers can become trapped in the body and ultimately cause genetic damage to the body’s cells. Exposure can also cause mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer.

The decision to change the name of the city was made in November 2019 as the negative connotations have long hampered business and tourism efforts.

“As citizens are the ambassadors of a community and the representatives of its vitality, it was obvious that the public would be involved in the process and the choice of the new name,” said Mayor Hugues Grimard at the time.

Call me Val: Asbestos could have been named after the Jeffrey mine (picture), but the residents voted for Val-des-Sources.

ERIC THOMAS / AFP via Getty Images

The original four proposals were published in September 2020: Apalone, Jeffrey, Phénix and Trois-Lacs.

The response on Facebook, however, has not been positive. In this Francophone city “make ridiculous!” (“ridiculous!”) was a recurring word in the comments. Apalone, which is in honor of a native species of tortoise, was proposed by Greenpeace Canada. Lyne Dion was not impressed and wrote, “I wouldn’t be proud to say I live in a city with soft turtles.”

Jeffrey is referring to WH Jeffrey who funded the city’s Jeffrey asbestos mine. Critics argue that doing so would continue to tie the city to its asbestos legacy and also honor the money men have indirectly linked to the deaths of many workers.

“Thank you for allowing democracy”

There have been cries on social media about a “lack of transparency” in relation to the decisions of the Council.

The turmoil was so great that asbestos city director-general Georges-André Gagné was forced to issue a second statement on September 16, in which he “called for a constructive and respectful debate”.

The new line-up of six names with a distinctly Francophone slant was unveiled on October 2nd: L’Azur-des-Cantons, Jeffrey-sur-le-Lac, Larochelle, Phénix, Trois-Lacs and Val-des-Sources.

Val-des-Sources, which means “Valley of the Sources” and refers to the town’s location near the sources of three lakes, was a clear winner with 51.5% of the vote.

The new name was announced live on Facebook and this time the response was mostly positive. The local Geneviève Lussier praised the socially distant “auto-voting” system and added: “Merci d’avoir permis la democracie” (“Thank you for allowing democracy”).

However, there are those who will miss the old city name even though it may be carcinogenic. Ginette Frichette wrote in September: “I am against the name change. I was born in asbestos and I want to die in asbestos.”

CNN’s Elizabeth Wolfe and Brian Ries contributed to this report.

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