Huntsville Council approves the concept and design phase of the new Unity Square project
Huntsville General Committee approved the concept and design phase of the Unity Square project, in the October 25, 2023, meeting.
Councillor, Scott Morrison, indicated that the proposal was initially introduced two years ago to put a rainbow crosswalk in the town, however, it was met with negative feedback. He said, “The feedback was heard loud and clear, specifically about it being taxpayer’s dollars, and specifically about why just the pride group.”
He said this is how the idea of Unity Square came about, including other groups. He said, “As a Unity Square, we’re looking at doing three crosswalks.” They will include veterans and Indigenous groups to the pride group. The goal is inclusiveness, “and involves people of colour, trans and the pride community.”
The square will be located at the four corners of Dara Howell Way.
Morrison and Councillor, Helena Renwick, have consulted other community groups for support, including Muskoka Area Indigenous Leadership Table (MAILT) at the District, and the Inclusive, Diverse Equitable Antiracist (IDEA) Advisory Group to see if they would be supportive of the project.
“They’ve given a tremendous amount of support and they’re 100 percent on board, and they’re going to help us with it,” said Morrison.
Consultations with Muskoka Pride, Huntsville Municipal Accommodation Tax Association (HMATA), the Huntsville Legion, and Hope Arises was met with further support for the project.
Morrison said, “The reaction around the table was overwhelmingly enthusiastic.”
Regarding the fundraising for the project, he made it clear it would be with respect to taxpayer’s feedback about the initial proposal. He said, our goal is to do this without touching the levy for a dime… In fact, we’d like to even build up a reserve for the process.”
The funds will come from three sources, including MAT Tax, HMATA, and businesses and individual contributions.
Morrison indicated that he approached businesses and individuals to get a feel if there would be interest and was met with a positive response. He said, “I’ve got 25 individuals and businesses that all want to spend money on this, and all want to get behind it.”
He added that his goal is not to ask for “tons of money” from people. “If someone wants to get behind this and they have $5 they can get behind this.”
To express appreciation to those that support the project there will be a sign describing the meaning behind it, and it will have a QR code for a website that will list people that supported the initiative. As Morrison put it, “To show the community that that many people care about them and that many people are wanting this to happen.” He added, “This also acknowledges we have a huge movement behind it, and a huge amount of support.”
Morrison and Renwick also had four companies reach out to them wanting to participate in the project. Morrison said, “They’re excited. They want to be a part of it.” One of them also has materials that are more versatile and 20 times more environmentally friendly than what’s usually used.
Renwick indicated that when she consulted with the Legion about whether they were open to the partnership and having a section in the square they were supportive as well. “They were over the moon. They loved it.” She added that they would like to design their section that will represent veterans.
She continued, “After we proposed the original crosswalk there was such negativity that came out, but there was this incredible swell of people that said, ‘We want to help.’ It balanced out the negativity… There are people out there that really care, and businesses came forward.”
Morrison explained there was a reason they choose these three groups. He said, “The veterans don’t get enough recognition and I think we can all recognize that they fought so that we have the freedom to be who we are and to be who we want to be to make ourselves feel the best we can.”
He added that the 7 feathers for the Indigenous group reflect the past “which outlines who got us to where we are today.” He said, “They represent the sacred teachings, and they also represent 7 generations further past, so that we decide to leave this earth better for them down the road.”
Acknowledging the pride community is equally important, including to the Indigenous, continued Morrison. He explained that they’ve been a celebrated people for hundreds of years, being seen as “gifted” because they have two genders – “a special people.” Therefore, 2S reflects “two spirited” in Indigenous culture.
The project request is $5,000 in funding from the MAT tax funds to cover the design portion of the project to start the process.
Morrison indicated, “Our goal is to dip into the MAT funds as little as we can.” He emphasized they will not touch the tax levy.
Councillor, Bob Stone, expressed support for the project. He said, “I think it’s wonderfully inclusive and it will send a great message.”
Deputy Mayor, Dan Armour, inquired about how they chose the three groups, and wanted to make sure they weren’t leaving anybody out.
Morrison said that including two more groups to the original pride initiative – the Legion and Indigenous – was their way of not wanting others to miss out. He added that it’s also in line with the groups recognized in other communities – those that are oppressed, or don’t receive the recognition they deserve, such as the vets.
Mayor, Nancy Alcock, expressed, “I think this is fantastic.” She said she was beaming during a previous discussion about it with Morrison. She added that now she will have an answer for the Probus group meeting tomorrow about whether Council is in support of the rainbow crosswalk. “So, this is a fantastic update.”
Councillor, Cory Clarke, requested a recorded vote and voted against the project.
Morrison, Renwick, and staff will work with the groups involved on a design concept and report back to Council about costs in the upcoming November meeting.