Commissioner Harry Kitchen called the controversy around the renaming of Victoria County “his one regret” with the amalgamation report he issued in 2000.
In a telephone interview with The Advocate Kitchen said,” I wish I had spelled out in the report why I named it what I did. The choice of the new name was not clearly explained. For the sake of a couple of paragraphs the reasoning should have been covered.”
Given it has been 20 years since the amalgamation of Victoria County’s townships and incorporated villages into the City of Kawartha Lakes, the Advocate has re-examined how we got here. The most persistent question, though, is why the commissioner used the word ‘city’ in the new name he chose.
Kitchen said he did not even realize in the beginning that among his many duties as commissioner was naming the newly amalgamated region. That was pointed out to him by a lawyer looking at a draft of the report pending public release.
“I wanted a name that reflected the amenities of the area, and I wanted a name that might benefit the area long term,” Kitchen said.
“I considered the Municipality of Victoria initially,” he said, “but after discussions with corporate relocation experts and economic development people from all across Ontario it was clear that name would be bad for investment.”
“I did some local research and discovered that the Kawartha Lakes moniker began in the Fenelon Falls/Bobcaygeon area. Consultants that I ran the name by loved it,” Kitchen said.
“I considered Municipality of Kawartha Lakes but rejected that for the same reason I rejected Municipality of Victoria. I was told that by using the designation of city, it would allow the region to roll with the big boys as the City of Kawartha Lakes would now show up in a multitude of searches for companies looking to re-locate or invest,” Kitchen added.
“I think City of Kawartha Lakes reflected the history of the area and initially was good for potential economic development. The first group of economic development people involved in selling the city to the rest of the world reported a lot of (internet) hits and were really pleased with the name choice. It was also a positive when City of Kawartha Lakes made the board in the Canadian version of Monopoly.”
Kitchen took pains in the interview to point out that City of Kawartha Lakes was for incorporation purposes only, and every city council since has had the opportunity to re-name the area anything they want if they weren’t happy with his choice.
“The first amalgamated council had a vigorous debate about the name, but no changes were made,” Kitchen said.
“The mayor of Peterborough was very upset with my name choice,” he recalls.
(The county of Peterborough had branded their entire tourism campaign around “Welcome to the Kawarthas.”)
“They apparently came to Lindsay to tell them (Mayor Truax and council) to change the name. I think the local council (back then) may have possibly kept the name out of spite.”
Despite the lack of explanation to local residents, Kitchen still believes the re-naming was a success.
“No local community lost their identity. There is still Omemee, Bobcaygeon and Fenelon Falls. Economic development officials were very happy with the name and the name reflected the history and character of the area.”
In 2014, council began to take a serious look at the name and decided to gradually eliminate the use of the word “The City of.”
Cheri Davidson, manager of communications for Kawartha Lakes said residents and stakeholders “have always had mixed feelings about the ‘The City of’ Kawartha Lakes.”
“It has been discussed and debated since 2001. Indeed we are not your typical city. In 2014, focused engagement with stakeholders showed that there was a strong preference to remove ‘The City of’ and simply refer to the municipality as Kawartha Lakes. The words were removed from the logo and efforts were made to minimize references to city.”
“Our municipality…is not easily identified with the usual meaning of the word city,” Davidson said. “Our brand must ensure that no area is forgotten, each historic name, place and values remembered and included in a wider umbrella we can all fit under – Kawartha Lakes.”