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Small U.S. hamlet named Swastika keeps name, despite complaint

Last Updated Sep 24, 2020 at 2:18 pm EST

A Swastika Trail sign is seen in Puslinch Township, about 75 kilometres west of Toronto, in this undated handout photo. Two residents of a southwestern Ontario town are asking a court to overturn the municipality's decision to keep the word "swastika" in the name of a local street, arguing the term is offensive to many. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Jennifer Horton

The rural upstate New York hamlet of Swastika is keeping its name, despite a complaint that it symbolizes the hate and intolerance of the Nazi regime.

The unincorporated crossroads in the Adirondack Mountain town of Black Brook, about 35 miles south of the U.S.-Canada border, has been known as Swastika for more than a century.

But town council members considered a name change after a visitor from New York City said it was offensive, especially to the memory of World War II veterans. Michael Alcamo said he was bicycling through the area this summer when he came upon Swastika.

“I was stunned that the people who live there wouldn’t have a meeting and pick a different name sometime after 1945, if not prior,” Alcamo said Thursday.

Council members met Sept. 14 and unanimously nixed a name change.

Black Brook supervisor Jon Douglass told NPR the council did not see a reason for a name change despite its use as a symbol of hate.

“But then I believe there are others that do not associate it with hate,” he said. “Did the Hindus and the (Buddhists) and all them, did they erase it from their religious history because of the Germans?”

The symbol has been indelibly linked to Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party since the 1930s, though crosses with arms bent at 90-degree angles have been adorning art for thousands of years. The name comes from the Sanskrit word meaning well-being.

One of the four town council members who voted to keep the name, Howard Aubin, told the Adirondack Daily Enterprise that “only an intolerant person” would assume the name is connected to Nazis.

The Press-Republican of Plattsburgh reported in 1977 that the rural community was once known as Goodrich Mills. But it became known as Swastika in 1913 after that name appeared on the local post office.

Douglass, who did not take part in the vote, said people have requested the name be changed several times before, including after World War II.

“And some of the residents that were from that area actually fought in World War II and refused to change the name just because Hitler tried to tarnish the meaning of swastika,” he said.

Alcamo said he was disappointed but hopes the town will reconsider at some point.

In June 2019, a Division Court in Ontario ruled Puslinch township was within its rights to maintain the name of a street called Swastika Trail, despite the passionate objections of some residents.

Swastika Trail, near Puslinch Lake in central southwestern Ontario, was named in the 1920s. The road is owned by a private corporation controlled by Paul Wyszynski, one of the 54 residents who live on it. Staff recommended a change with the consent of residents on the road but Wyszynski opposed any change.

After hearing from several delegations at a heated meeting in December 2017, council voted 4-1 against any name change.

“There is no doubt that, to many people in Canada in the 21st century, the swastika is an abhorrent symbol, reminiscent of the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis,” the court said. “However, the discrete issue raised on this application is whether council for the Township of Puslinch acted lawfully when it voted not to change the name of the road.”

On that point, the court said, the record clearly shows council did not simply defer to the cottagers association but considered various options before deciding as it did.

Files from The Canadian Press were used in this report