Canadian town ‘Asbestos’ has voted on a new name

For a town once named after a notoriously lethal mineral, the debate over how to rebrand the Quebec city of Asbestos was a toxic one.

Established more than 120 years ago, following the discovery of a profitable asbestos mine in 1897, Asbestos the municipality has suffered a declining reputation since the link was revealed between the poisonous substance and cancer, particularly the aggressive mesothelioma.

Asbestos as a manufacturing material was finally banned in Canada in October 2018.

City officials launched a campaign to change its name in November 2019, asking locals to take part in the historic measure.

“As citizens are the ambassadors of a municipality and are the representatives of its vitality, it was obvious that the public would be involved in the process and the choice of the new name,” said Mayor Hugues Grimard last year, according to CNN.

asbestos mine in Asbestos, Quebec
Abandoned asbestos mine in Asbestos, Quebec.AFP via Getty Images

The first four names on the table were Apalone, Jeffrey, Phénix and Trois-Lacs. But residents weren’t happy with their initial choices.

“I wouldn’t be proud to say that I live in a soft turtle city,” said one local critic on Facebook, referring to the region’s native softshell turtle, the apalone — a name suggested by Greenpeace Canada.

The name Jeffrey was plucked in honor of Canadian businessman W.H. Jeffrey, who helped establish the eponymous asbestos mine, but many citizens agreed it wouldn’t go far enough to distance themselves from their somewhat problematic legacy.

The controversy between the city’s 6,000 residents became so heated that the City of Asbestos’ general manager, Georges-André Gagné, issued a statement last month “calling for a constructive and respectful debate.” Local lawmakers then decided to come up with a new lineup, and pushed the election another month.

On Oct. 2, a ballot with a batch of six names was revealed: L’Azur-des-Cantons, Jeffrey-sur-le-Lac, Larochelle, Phénix, Trois-Lacs and Val-des-Sources. Residents cast their votes at a drive-in poll in a parking lot.

With 51.5%, the clear winner was Val-des-Sources, or Valley of the Springs — a nod to the town’s proximity to a wellspring that feeds three nearby lakes.

On Monday, the Facebook page for the city shared the results.

“After 2,796 ballots received, 3 rounds of counting and a majority of votes at 51.5%, you have chosen … Val-des-Sources!,” officials wrote.

Despite the majority pick, some residents maintain an ill-fated pride for the misbegotten moniker.

“I was born in Asbestos and I want to die in Asbestos,” shouted one man, according to the CBC, as he peeled out of the voting parking lot.