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In defence of Dartmouth

 

Halifax’s rebranding campaign has been in the news a lot lately, particularly in regards to the controversy over efforts to introduce the “HALIFAX” logo to a number of locations across the harbour in Dartmouth. I know Dartmouth can be a bit of a mystery to many come-from-away campus dwellers, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to explain what is going on, and why people care so passionately about it.

I’m a Dartmouth girl. I was raised there. I went through my messy adolescence and foolish twenties there. Dartmouth and I have history; we’ve been through a lot together.

There’s something about Dartmouth that creates a real loyalty in those who have long-term ties.

Maybe the loyalty stems from the often-unfounded bad reputation we’ve all had to put up with. Like most places, Dartmouth has areas that have more crime and others that have less. When the crime is publicized enough, the public imagination runs wild, and suddenly people start envisioning Gotham City without Batman.

Like the majority of things we collectively freak out about, that image of Dartmouth is pretty inaccurate. I began running around Dartmouth with my friends the minute I was old enough—late night visits to Lake Banook, trips out to watch the late show at the old Penhorn Mall theatre, or just wandering the neighborhood at midnight—and we never had any problems. Sure, crime happened—as it does everywhere—but it wasn’t nearly as bad as my friends who weren’t from Dartmouth thought it was.

The loyalty isn’t just from a shared sense of persecution though—a lot of it comes from the fact that Dartmouth can be a really beautiful place to live. Go to Shubie Park in October: the fall colors in the trees create a stunning view beside Lake Charles, and it will take your breath away.

Whatever the individual motivations, I do know that Dartmouth has some of the most passionate defenders around. When the City is attacked, or when these defenders feel something fundamental about Dartmouth is being taken from it (and them), you’re going to hear about it.

This brings me to the currently raging debate over the Municipality’s efforts to rebrand Dartmouth’s buildings, parks, and other municipal properties with the controversial new “HALIFAX” logo.

What is more fundamental than a name? Refusing to call someone by their real name is a psychological tool used to strip away self-identity, and the same principle can apply more broadly to a community. Understandably, Dartmouthians have a huge issue with Dartmouth being assimilated into the identity of its bigger counterpart across the harbour. It feels like a loss, an erasing of a place with its own history and vibe.

I’m not going to lie: there have been times when I think people have been too sensitive and defensive about Dartmouth. Calling Dartmouth by its humorous ‘Darkside’ nickname is a recipe for some very angry Facebook posts from certain traditionalists. Some people have also taken issue with the Trailer Park Boys, and what they feel is poor representation of Dartmouth. I’m not offended by the nickname, and the Trailer Park Boys don’t really bother me either.

I do however think that the current fight to protect Dartmouth’s identity is mostly on point. Sullivan’s Pond should never have Halifax branding attached to it. It is about as fundamentally Dartmouth as a place can get. Dartmouth is a gorgeous city, and the fact that its citizens feel that strongly about keeping its name and history alive is telling.

Some have suggested that the rebranding is a necessary part of a larger economic renewal. Is slapping the “HALIFAX” logo all over Dartmouth somehow going to somehow give us golden-paved streets lined with trees that grow money? No? Then what is the point? I’ve heard talk about the need to establish a more coherent brand abroad so that people aren’t mystified when we tell them we are from Dartmouth. Newsflash: Halifax isn’t exactly New York City in terms of name recognition, and even if it was, our image abroad has nothing to with how we brand our parks, buildings and neighbourhoods here at home. Some marketing types have said that the new logo is bold, and that we need to “Be Bold” in order to meet the challenges facing our region.

I’m all for being bold, but I don’t see what boldness has to do with rebranding Dartmouth with the Halifax logo. I mean I guess it is bold in the same way that writing your name on a hungry coworker’s lunch bag is bold—you risk getting an earful of profanity and a punch in the face— but I fail to see how it achieves any progress.

Dartmouth is its own city—spiritually if not legally—and this rebranding effort is a bunch of unnecessary drama. Quit spending taxpayer money on signs that actively piss off the people paying the taxes, and let the people of Dartmouth hold on to something that is part of their identity.

If nothing I’ve said speaks to you, and this all still seems a little frivolous, think about it this way: if Trudeau suddenly announced that Halifax was now part of the Greater, Greater, Greater Toronto Area, and Toronto-branded signs started popping up on every local landmark and street corner, you’d probably feel a little defiant too, wouldn’t you?

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