Rape, Swastika, and Dildo: Towns battle infamous names

A sign outside Tisdale, Saskatchewan. Devan C. Tasa / THE CANADIAN PRESS

A town billing itself as the “Land of Rape and Honey” is likely not going to resonate well with tourists or female residents.

Yet that is the long-time slogan of Tisdale, Sask., a rural community of some 3,200 located about 210 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon.

The town’s moniker — in place for nearly 60 years — is not boastful of criminal acts, but rather its production of rapeseed, also known as rape, which is primarily used to make canola oil.

The crop also produces nectar, which is used by bees to make honey, hence the second half of the moniker. It’s also a popular ingredient in biodiesel.

Despite the innocuous nature of the plant, Tisdale mayor Al Jellicoe says he receives complaints every year about the sign.

“Once you explain, it eases things up a bit,” Jellicoe told the Canadian Press. “But when you’re trying to deal internationally or nationally — I don’t want to do that every time we entice a business to the area.”

Jellicoe is currently surveying Tisdale residents on whether or not they want the slogan to change. In 1992 ,the town held a similar vote, but the results were split so the slogan stayed.

The town has proposed some less-offensive alternatives:

  • Hub of the Northeast.
  • A Place to Grow.
  • A Place to Bee.
  • Land of Canola and Honey.

“We’re at that point where we need to change it,” Jellicoe says.

Tisdale, however, is not alone in having a controversial town name or slogan. As Neil Young croons: “There is a town in north Ontario . . .”

At the height of the Second World War, the small mining community of Swastika became popular for all the wrong reasons. An embarrassed provincial government tried unsuccessfully to get the town to change its name to Winston — in honour of Winston Churchill — and reportedly went so far as to post new road signs, which proud residents removed.

Surprisingly, there was no such resistance when the government changed the town of Berlin to Kitchener during the First World War.

According to s. 187 of Ontario’s Municipal Act, 2001, each municipality has the right to change its name “so long as the new name is not the same as the name of another municipality.”

In the case of Swastika, the province has no authority to impose a new name.

“The current process to change a municipality’s name is only available to the municipality and does not include approval by the province on the choice of name,” says Conrad Spezowka, a spokesman for the Ontario Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

Newfoundland has also been embroiled in controversy over an indelicate name. The fishing community of Dildo, home to 1,200, has so far resisted attempts to rebrand itself. In the 1980s, there was a defeated petition that sought to give it a more mundane and tourist-friendly name such as Seaview or Pretty Cove.

The town recently came on the radar of well-known Jeopardy champ Ken Jennings, who in 2013 wrote a travel piece on it, boasting about the local summer Dildo festival and souvenir T-shirts that read: “I Survived Dildo Days.”

In the glare of modern sensibilities, these bucolic town names are being seen in a very different prism. If the moniker has become an albatross, a simple council vote can change it.
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