© Diane Crocker
Brian Sparkes was all smiles following the Corner Brook City Council meeting on Monday, Feb. 17, 2014. The city plans to name a street after his great-grandfather Mattie Mitchell.
Brian Sparkes walked out of Corner Brook City Council chambers Monday night a very happy and proud man.
That’s because years of lobbying to have his great-grandfather, Mattie Mitchell, recognized in some way in the city, finally paid off when council voted to name a street in his honour.
Mattie Mitchell Avenue will be constructed as part of the new Wheeler’s Road subdivision.
Mitchell, a Mi’kmaq guide and prospector was born in Hall’s Bay in 1844 and died in Corner Brook in 1921.
Among some items commemorating Mitchell’s life that Sparkes carried with him was a clipping from a 1998 Western Star that told the story of his mother’s efforts to have her grandfather recognized. Marie Mitchell Sparkes wanted Regent Square renamed Mattie Mitchell Square as the land there had previously been owned by him.
“After she passed in 2007 I picked up the cause,” said Sparkes. “Because I wanted the same thing she wanted, for Mattie Mitchell to get recognition for what he accomplished.”
Sparkes said what makes the street naming so important is that Mitchell was known everywhere else, but in the place where he spent the last 10 years of his life there’s been nothing here to recognize him.
Sparkes was joined by several members of his extended family at the meeting and the chambers erupted in applause when council voted to name the street in Mitchell’s honour.
It was an easy vote for Coun. Keith Cormier, a member of the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation Band, to make.
“Mattie Mitchell was a proud Mi’kmaq person,” he said following the meeting. “His family knew that he was Mi’kmaq. His great-grandchildren knew that they were Mi’kmaq people because their family spoke about it and they were proud.”
Cormier said that’s not the same for many families on the west coast of Newfoundland whose Mi’kmaq heritage was hidden because of economic racism.
“You couldn’t get a job if you were Indian or married to an Indian,” said Cormier
“It is significant now that that door has been pushed wide open. That door is no longer closed,” he said. “People are proud of their history and proud to acknowledge that they are a First Nations person, not only in Corner Brook, but in Newfoundland and in the country.”
On the other side of council chambers sat a smaller group of people who were also proud to see some recognition for those who served this province.
In addition to the primary residential street in the subdivision being named in honour of Mitchell, a second to-be-developed road will be named Beaumont Hamel Street.
The connector road between Wheeler’s Road and Cpl. Pinksen Memorial Drive will serve as a memorial to the Newfoundland soldiers who lost their lives at Beaumont Hamel during the First World War on July 1, 1916.
Hedley Smith, a member of Branch 13 of the Royal Canadian Legion, was one of a handful of Legion members to attend the meeting.
“It’s a very nice feeling,” he said of hearing the name of the road being approved.
“They’ve started to recognize that the Legion plays a big part in Corner Brook and that Beaumont Hamel was a very significant endeavour on behalf of Newfoundland, especially in the First World War.”
Smith, who served in the navy from 1953 to1958, said his father lost family members at Beaumont Hamel and that he’s visited there three times.
“And I’m telling you it breaks your heart to go there.”