Way back at the end of the last millennium, the Nova Scotia government decided that the province had too many municipalities to manage a population of less than a million people effectively, efficiently, and economically. The solution was to amalgamate 67 municipal units into fewer governing units. The Cape Breton Regional Municipality was the first to be created in 1995 with the Halifax Regional Municipality a year later. Both processes were the result of what was referred to at the time as “forced amalgamation,” meaning that the autonomous units and their populations did not support the joining of several communities together under one government.
In CBRM the result was the merger of the former City of Sydney with the County of Cape Breton and the towns of Glace Bay, New Waterford, Dominion, Louisbourg, North Sydney, and Sydney Mines. At the time, the focus of discussions both among elected officials and community members wasn’t on the moniker given to the region, but instead about the fear of losing their unique identities when their community names and government structures were being altered.
Today, we are 28 years out from that forced amalgamation. Many of the old fears have subsided and residents are long used to addressing their bill payments to CRBM. The same seems true in the Halifax Regional Municipality. But there is one difference between the two forced amalgamations.
In 2014 HRM council approved a name change to the municipality after a council motion a year earlier asked HRM staff to “develop a place brand that would better reflect HRM’s best attributes and project the image of the municipality in a more relevant, memorable and compelling manner.”
At the time, Mayor Mike Savage said the goal of the branding strategy was “to articulate a single rallying cry that will help us put our best foot forward and show the world what a great place our region is to live, work, visit, and invest.” HRM hired a local marketing firm to lead the branding project. It wanted to avoid what it called the old “tired approach” to engagement, so it avoided the traditional town hall model and instead met people where they are naturally found: farmers’ markets, ice skating surfaces, and shopping hubs.
The agency held focus groups and oneand-one meetings with leaders in the arts, business, and military communities and ensured it captured the views of all ages and constituencies. Before the agency was done it had the comments of more than 20,000 residents during a three-month campaign, which the municipality says is the most comprehensive public consultation process in its history. The result was a strategy to rebrand the HRM as Halifax (and adopt the slogan Be Bold).
We have all watched in recent years Halifax’s economy grow. The business associations of the two other major centres (Dartmouth and Bedford) that makeup Halifax have agreed that there has been economic growth in both former cities since the rebrand. So, while it remains the Halifax Regional Municipality in the legal documents, it is Halifax that now describes the city and its people.
It is acknowledged that during the amalgamation processes of the ‘90s, the attention was on managing debt and controlling overlapping services and not on the place names adopted by the new legal entities. The leadership of both municipalities have at different times acknowledged this reality. Former CBRM mayor, Cecil Clarke, has previously stated that amalgamation was a numbers exercise and not a people process. Halifax mayor, Mike Savage, is on record saying that amalgamation shouldn’t be about politics or bureaucracy, but instead about how you plan a community. The new planning and economic strategy for CBRM has The Third thinking about the future of CBRM and wondering whether it’s time for our municipality to ask the question, What’s in a Name? So, we hit the streets to get the views of Thirders.
There are those who “have never thought about”, those who think the name is “fine”, and those who don’t like the name. Of the three perspectives, those who fall into the latter group had the most to say.
What comes to mind first for many Thirders when they hear CBRM is ‘city hall.’ This Thirder, who has never liked the place name, represents the view of several people who responded to our questions about the moniker. They say that when they think of CBRM “the mayor and council come to mind, not the people who live here. In fact, now that I’m asked to think about it, I don’t think I ‘ve ever used the term CBRM to describe where I’m from. Plus, it sounds like it includes the entire island – but it doesn’t. I have often wondered what people outside CBRM think of the name.” Another Thirder who has been living in The Third for five years told us that our place name “is boring… it means nothing…it’s just an administrative term with an administrative purpose. Let the politicians use CBRM, but the people should have something that means something to us, but we don’t.”
If CBRM was to rebrand it would need to go through a similar exercise to Halifax’s a decade ago. The marketing firm’s strategy then cost Halifax $300,000 and took four months to complete. Halifax limited other costs associated with the rebrand by replacing logos on its fleet only as vehicles retired and on other materials when the current supply was depleted.
CBRM could take a similar approach. After all, Halifax’s mayor says the results of the rebrand are undeniable. But there is also the reality that for many in the Third, traditional community place names continue to dominate how we answer the question: Where are you from? In the weeks to come, The Third is going to reach out to some place name and rebranding experts to get their take on the whole thing. In the meantime, tell us what do you think.
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