Asbestos, Quebec, Canada – In search of a new name to replace the one that once proclaimed the town’s pride as a well-known global exporter of asbestos. For 141 years, since the opening of the Jeffrey Mine in 1879, the town based its identity on asbestos. By the 1970s and 1980s, this fame began turning against the town. The dangers of asbestos became known, leading to problems enticing businesses to relocate to Asbestos. Fewer tourists wanted to visit for a tour of the mine.
In search of a new name for Asbestos, Quebec?
In 2006, changing the name of the town was first suggested to the citizens. The idea was rejected by many since memories of the good days were still fresh. But, in 2019, the mayor said the town no longer had a choice. Companies did not want the name Asbestos associated with them or their products. The mines closed in 2011, leaving an economic hole that needed filling.
Finalists for the new name
Originally, a new name was scheduled for May of 2020, but the process has not gone smoothly. There are requirements for a name change, including:
• a reflection of the area or people,
• it must be in French,
• it cannot be the name of a saint or other person.
Hundreds of suggestions came in and, of those, the municipal council chose four. When the names were revealed, this town, with a population of 7,096, was not pleased. The names and associated complaints:
Apalone – a local species of turtle
A common comment stated there is no pride in living in a soft turtle city.
Jeffrey – for W.H. Jeffrey, the namesake of the Jeffrey asbestos mine
Critics say this still ties the town to asbestos and the leaders indirectly tied to the deaths of many workers. One requirement stated no names of persons.
Phénix – the mythical bird who arose from flames to begin anew
This has no connection to local history.
Trois-Lacs – a local lake
While the name sounds inviting, it is known as one of the worst lakes in Quebec.
The mayor, Hugues Grimard, issued a statement, “I am very happy with the approach we have adopted throughout the process and especially with the involvement of our population. I invite our citizens to come and vote in large numbers!”
However, on September 16, the general manager for Asbestos, Quebec, Georges-Andre Gagne, tried to quell the conflict saying, ”some people have expressed their disagreement with the names proposed” and called for a constructive and respectful debate.
The strife is such that some citizens want to keep the name Asbestos, even though it is the name of a toxic and sometimes deadly mineral. Asbestos can cause lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma – a deadly form of cancer.
One citizen, Alexandre Cote, wrote on Facebook, “Honestly, it’s a setup to get Trois-Lacs! The rest of the names are really awful.” His comment joined the many who just said, “ridiculous!!”
The search of a new name will hopefully be settled when voted on between October 14 and 18 by citizens over 14.