Ottawa council committee says yes to Annie Pootoogook Park
Recommendation to name park after late Inuit artist will now go to Ottawa city council
Canada’s capital is a step closer to naming a large green space just east of downtown Ottawa after the late Inuit artist Annie Pootoogook.
Members of Ottawa city council’s community and protective services committee, at a virtual meeting on Thursday, recommended Sandy Hill Park be renamed Annie Pootoogook Park after the much-revered artist from Kinngait.
The committee’s recommendation must be approved by the city’s full council at a future meeting for the renaming to become official.
“Representation matters. Women matter. The arts matter. And most importantly, Inuit people matter,” Stéphanie Plante, a Carleton University employee who lives in the Sandy Hill neighbourhood, told the committee.
Plante started campaigning for the name change in December 2019.
In an interview prior to the meeting, she said too few municipal facilities in Ottawa are named after women, and even fewer are named after Indigenous people.
So she chose to push for the commemoration of Annie Pootoogook’s name because of the strong Inuit presence in the area, she said.
The park is located behind the Sandy Hill Community Centre at 250 Somerset St. E., not far from the Nunavut Sivuniksavut building at the corner of Nelson and Rideau streets.
There’s also an Inuit daycare in that neighbourhood — and Plante says those Inuit children should see Pootoogook’s life represented in a positive way.
“We need to remember Annie as the absolutely special person that she was,” Plante said.
Plante’s work generated letters of support for the idea from Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq, Kinngait MLA David Joanasie and from multiple Inuit organizations.
She also says she obtained the permission of Pootoogook’s family members in Ottawa and Kinngait.
Pootoogook, who won the Sobey Art Award in 2006 and gained international fame for her drawings and sketches, was found dead at age 46 on Sept. 19, 2016, close to where the Rideau River flows through the Lowertown neighbourhood.
In the weeks following her death, media attention generated by a controversial Ottawa police investigation made her name known to many Ottawa residents who may not have been familiar with her before then.
The only Inuk to attend the committee meeting, Taqralik Partridge, reminded committee members of the longstanding Inuit presence in Ottawa, pointing out that the largest Inuit population outside of the Inuit territories resides in and around the city.
“It’s a great opportunity for Inuit to see themselves reflected in public spaces.… Annie, in her lifetime, probably experienced that she was not always welcome in public spaces, just because of the difficulties that she experienced. This is an opportunity to right that,” Partridge said.
Partridge, originally from Nunavik, has since 2020 been director of the Nordic Lab, part of the SAW Gallery on St. Nicholas St.
She said the park renaming process gives the city a chance to work with groups like Tungasuvvingat Inuit and the Ottawa Inuit Children’s Centre, as well as with arts leaders to create relevant programming.
And it’s likely that Pootoogook will end up being memorialized by more than just a plaque.
Dan Chenier, the city’s general manager of parks, told the committee his department will look at incorporating a piece of Pootoogook’s artwork into an outdoor sign at the park, although he’s not sure right now if that’s feasible.
But he did say his department is preparing to display examples of her work from Ottawa’s municipal art collection inside the lobby of the adjacent Sandy Hill community centre.
And the sign bearing her name will definitely include Inuktitut in addition to English and French, Chenier said.
Mathieu Fleury, city councillor for the Rideau-Vanier ward, which includes Sandy Hill, had brought the matter forward.
The National Gallery of Canada and the Ottawa Art Gallery also support the renaming effort.