By Josh Hawley & Tim Kitz

With its campus sitting empty and an unclear plan for what the fall semester will look like, Carleton is turning its attention to public relations and renaming buildings — with results that might disappoint anyone actually interested in righting historical and ongoing injustices. 

Since the pandemic hit, the university has announced two rebranding campaigns, the “New Names for New Times Initiative” and the “Reputation Enhancement Project” both through its “Strategic Integrated Plan.” The new names initiative is a response — an incomplete one, we would say — to anti-racist and decolonial activism on and off campus. Meanwhile, the reputation enhancement project’ website reveals the overall PR strategy is primarily an effort to attract capital through “enrolment, research funding, business partnerships, alumni engagement, fundraising, and more.”

Carleton University’s rebranding initiative. Illustration: Crystal Yung

The financial crisis facing Ontario universities was recently thrust into the spotlight with the insolvency of Laurentian University in Sudbury, in no small part due to the fact that Ontario provides the lowest per-student university funding in Canada,” as reported by the Toronto Star. But considering Carleton ran a $40.2 million surplus in 2019-2020, the infiltration of the university by corporate philanthropists is not strictly tied to government cuts. Long before Ford’s attacks on education, Carleton was kneeling to corporate donors.

For example, the Loeb Building is named grocery magnate Bertram Loeb. Loeb brought IGA and grocery franchises to Canada in the mid-20th century and donated $500,000 to Carleton in 1965, with the building completed in 1967. While Bertram was pushed out by shareholders in 1976, who ironically started marketing the chain under the Loeb name, the family remained among the Ottawa elite, heading up various corporations and real estate investment groups. Bertram’s son David also owned the Rough Riders when they were good (during the glory days of coach Frank Clair and quarterback Russ Jackson), while his daughter-in-law Fay served as president of the National Gallery.

We’ll return to other, far shadier corporate names for Carleton buildings later — cough, Minto and Richcraft, cough — but first let’s look at the new names Carleton is working on.

New Names & Old Crimes

It is thanks to the efforts of Indigenous and Black professors and students that Carleton will be renaming three of its buildings. The University Centre will be named in consultation with members of the Kitigan Zibi and Pikwakanagan Algonquin Nation, Residence Commons with Black communities, and Robertson Hall with the Inuit community. 

According to its press release, Carleton is renaming the buildings — two of three which have innocuous names — to recognize:

  • “the historic social movement sparked by the tragic killing of George Floyd, and the growing recognition of historic and present injustice in Canada,” 
  • “the traditional, unceded, and unsurrendered territory,” and 
  • “the spirit of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the Inuit of Canada.”

The press release glosses over why Robertson Hall is being renamed, but the answer is clear. It’s because former Carleton chancellor Gordon Robertson played a central role in the state-sponsored displacement of Inuit in the 1950s for Canadian sovereignty. This happened while Robertson served as Deputy Minister of Northern Affairs and Commissioner of the Northwest Territories. 

This has come up before. In the ’90s, Professor Foster Griezic waged an unsuccessful one-man campaign against the building’s name, according to Windspeaker. This time a group of human rights students had greater success raising awareness and pressuring the administration, as documented by The Charlatan. Yet their role in the renaming has gone unacknowledged by the university. 

The silence around what prompted the name change has disappointed Aliqa Illauq, the Inuit Carleton student whose story-telling inspired her classmates to launch their campaign. She told the CBC, “It’s really important to talk about what happened, and how it happened and why it happened. So, the name change is great, but it doesn’t have a lot of weight if you’re not going to talk about why the building name had to change.​​​”

It seems like Carleton wants the positive branding boost from being seen as ‘woke’ and hip to social justice, without actually doing the hard work of engaging with any troubling history.

As for the claim that the renaming was also inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement… that’s all well and good. Again, though, the announcement has odd omissions. The press release, signed by Carleton President Benoit-Antoine Bacon, mentions George Floyd — but he can’t seem to bring himself to actually use the phrase “Black Lives Matter.”

More than that, there’s an astonishing hypocrisy involved in what buildings are getting a name change. The university is planning to rename the Residence Commons building — with its completely generic and innocuous name — in consultation with Black communities. Yet it won’t be changing the names of the Dundas and Russell residence buildings, which commemorate two men associated with slavery.

See, Peter Russell was an Upper Canada administrator and judge in the 1700s, who also owned and traded slaves. Henry Dundas was a Scottish politician and Secretary of War with a mixed relationship to slavery, we might say. As a young lawyer, he argued a case that effectively outlawed slavery in Scotland. But he has also been credited with delaying the abolition of the slave trade for a generation by adding the word “gradual” to a Parliamentary resolution in 1792 and repeatedly opposing immediate changes.

This exposes Carleton’s renaming initiative for what it is: a feel-good diversity gesture that completely fails to reckon with historic racism and injustice. It seems like Carleton wants the positive branding boost from being seen as ‘woke’ and hip to social justice, without actually doing the hard work of engaging with any troubling history. It can’t even name the injustice against Inuit people that it is trying to correct or say “Black Lives Matter.” Carleton wants to be woke without having to actually take a stand. 

And we’re not done! Let’s take a tour of a few other Carleton buildings with troubling namesakes — in this case, of predatory local developers.  

Minto Centre for Advanced Studies in Engineering

Carleton built the Centre for Advanced Studies in Engineering (CASE) after receiving a $1 million donation from Minto Developments in 1987. The Minto CASE building is home to Carleton’s Faculty of Engineering and Design. 

What kind of company is Carleton’s engineering building named after? Minto is the 13th biggest landlord in the country and one of the biggest in Ottawa. The company was formed in 1955 as Mercury Homes by Roger Greenberg Sr. and his four sons Louis, Gilbert, Irving, and Lorry. In addition to their financial power, Lorry was mayor of Ottawa from 1975-1978, while Irving was married to the sister of Jacquelin Holzman, mayor of Ottawa from 1991-1997. The Greenberg family ranks as number 74 on the 2018 list of Canadian Business magazine’s “Canada’s Richest People,” with a net worth of $1.57 billion.

When Minto patriarch Irving Greenberg died in the early 1990s, the next generation stepped in. Dan Greenberg, Irving’s son, took over some of the company’s major properties — including Heron Gate Village and Bayshore through his company Otnim, which is Minto backwards. The Leveller has extensively covered the tribulations of Heron Gate tenants elsewhere, after Otnim handed it off. 

But for our purposes today, in 1997, Dan started Ferguslea Properties and focused on the Bayshore property. Ferguslea eventually renamed it Accora Village, in an offensive and arguably racist attempt to rebrand the neighbourhood. Bayshore has one of the highest rates of both visible minorities and low income in the city according to Statistics Canada and is stigmatized in much the same way as Herongate. An executive told The Ottawa Citizen in 2011 that the company “wanted to distinguish ourselves from the [Bayshore] community itself … when anything negative in the west end happens, it is typically labelled Bayshore. So that was part of the reason to rename Bayshore to Accora village.”

Accora Village, meanwhile, is “Canada’s largest privately owned rental community,” home to over 9,000 tenants. The control Ferguslea has over an entire neighbourhood is largely unparalleled, and the company has used this control to make it clear they want to separate themselves from the reality of the racialized poverty of Bayshore.

Minto has also owned properties south of the border since 1978 — but only in Florida. The company seized on the global financial crisis and expanded operations there in 2008.

Dan Greenberg now sits on Carleton’s Board of Governors. This body arguably has the most decision-making power at the university, including over the naming and renaming of buildings.

Minto converted into a real estate investment trust (REIT) on April 24, 2018. REITs are the main drivers of the financialization of housing, which mobilizes housing ownership for stock market investors’ to profit and which has led to skyrocketing rents and widespread evictions, as The Leveller’s discussed before. In a profile on Michael Waters, the CEO of the Minto Group, the Ottawa Citizen noted, “The REIT makes its money by investing in and reconfiguring apartment buildings, then charging higher market rents.”

Let’s take a look at Minto’s 2020 annual report, which quite explicitly lays out their business strategy. In it, Minto acknowledges there is a financial crisis resulting from the pandemic on a societal level, yet they still turned a profit: “In one of the worst economic years on record, the REIT delivered solid financial results. In 2020, the REIT … increased 2.2% compared to 2019.” 

Obviously, Minto did not suffer financially, but they know full well who did. Minto reflected on the unusually high tenant turnover rate in quarter four of 2020. They determined that “as the duration of the pandemic lengthens, so does the financial hardship for certain tenants. Despite government income supports, some tenants are forced to move for financial reasons.” Of course, saying “forced to move” is just landlord-speak for “evictions.” By the end of 2020, the government moratorium on eviction enforcement was lifted, the Landlord and Tenant Board’s “eviction blitz” was in full swing, and the arrears tenants had accrued due to income loss throughout the pandemic were resulting in mass evictions.

Tenant turnover isn’t just good for Minto, it’s a key part of their entire business model. They “reposition” properties by kicking out tenants and engaging in renovations to increase rents as much as possible. “The rate at which Management can complete the repositioning plan depends on the rate of suite turnover,” according to their annual report. Once units are empty and repositioned, Minto expects a “return in the range of 8% to 15%” on the rents. In fact, they were able to increase rents by 11.8% in Ottawa for units that became vacant in 2020.

Minto also isn’t too worried about the Ontario government’s freeze on provincially-set rent increases: “This temporary freeze on sitting rents will not impact the REIT’s ability to negotiate market rents on new leases for suites with tenant turnover or to apply above guideline increases for eligible capital expenses.” Minto already has its eyes set on 2021 and the increased vacancy rates due to economic conditions resulting from the pandemic: “Looking forward to 2021, the REIT will take advantage of the higher number of vacant suites available to increase repositioning activity.”

In keeping with their business model and their aggressive repositioning strategy, Minto has been evicting tenants throughout the pandemic. How many members of the Carleton community has Minto evicted or subjected to rent increases?

Minto building holding the Minto Logo. Illustration: Crystal Yung

Richcraft Hall

Another corporation that has lent its name to a Carleton building is Richcraft Homes. Richcraft is very much following in the footsteps of Minto, developing housing on large swaths of land. While Minto was proclaimed the city’s “biggest home builder” by the Ottawa Citizen, Richcraft is now “proudly the largest landowner and developer in Ottawa.” According to the City of Ottawa’s 2018 Vacant Urban Residential Land Survey, Richcraft, together with its partnership companies, own 639 hectares of Ottawa, or 34% of all vacant land in the city.

The Ottawa Citizen has covered some of Richcraft’s environmental exploits. In 2010, Richcraft applied to the city to extend the urban boundary further into rural Ottawa so they could develop on land they owned near the protected Carp River. (Of course, according to the city’s own website, Ottawa is already “larger than the cities of Toronto, Montréal, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton combined.”) In 2002, Richcraft clearcut a protected forest in Kanata, tearing down hundreds of centuries-old trees, “without any regard for their environmental value,” a biologist told the Citizen.

In 2017, Richcraft was at it again, clearcutting old growth forest in Ottawa’s South March Highlands. This area has been rated by the city as the most significant natural area within Ottawa “with rich plant and animal life found nowhere else in the urban part of the City,” according to the 2008 Ottawa Urban Natural Areas Environmental Evaluation, as quoted by Unpublished Ottawa.

Richcraft mostly builds condos and tract housing in far-reaching areas of the city, but they also have rentals, which go for hundreds of dollars more per month than the average two-bedroom in Ottawa.

Richcraft Hall was originally called the River Building, as it stands next to and overlooks the Rideau River. When the building first opened in 2012, the Citizen reported it was meant to “signify Carleton’s connection to the community and its concern for the natural environment.” On November 1, 2016, after a $3 million donation from the Singhal family, owners of Richcraft, it was renamed Richcraft Hall.

Richcraft Building sitting on the river. Credit: Crystal Yung

There is an ironic circularity to the history of the River/Richcraft building. According to the Citizen, in the late 2000s, Carleton was planning two companion buildings. When the global financial crisis hit, triggered by the bursting of the United States’ housing bubble, Carleton management could only commit to the smaller of the two buildings, the Canal Building. By 2008, the university’s pension fund had shrunk from $850 million to $650 million, and the River Building was put on hiatus. Months later, the federal and provincial governments stepped in and put $52.5 million towards the construction of the River Building.

To summarize, a global financial crisis caused by a housing bubble stopped the university from moving forward with the River Building. It was then public money that guaranteed the construction of one of Carleton’s “most significant achievements,” which the university named in honour of a protected waterway. Four years later, it was renamed after Ottawa’s biggest landowner and home developer, known for environmental destruction and exploitative rents.

There’s a bit of an online archive documenting the frustration students felt around this name change. The students’ campaign back in 2016, covered by the campus press, mostly revolved around “Witchcraft” and Harry Potter-themed memes. But the seriousness of the name change was not lost on them. Sasha Chuchin, an undergraduate student at Carleton back in 2016, told the Charlatan, “The commodification of education, the fact that there was no consultations, the fact that it was the family that donated the funds but it was the company’s name that was used for the building, all of these are significant issues that occur on campus.”

Fun swag from the Never Forget River Building Society

The Legacy of Carleton’s Building Names

The recent announcement of changes to three of Carleton’s buildings to honour Indigenous and Black communities and recognize land theft and structural violence is a small step in the right direction. But in the end, it’s more about branding than justice. The university has a long way to go if its rebranding campaigns are to move beyond blatant groveling to corporate donors. 

If we are appalled by buildings and statues honouring genocidal slaveholders, then we should also take issue when Carleton honours those who profited off evictions and environmental destruction. Students and instructors have demonstrated their power in shifting the narrative and forcing Carleton to rethink its legacy. This work will have to continue, to bring awareness to the full scale of the destruction caused by those the university has chosen to commemorate. 

Personifications of Richcraft and Minto inflicting economic and environmental havoc.

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