After years of calls for Mic Mac Mall to change its name from a mispronunciation of Mi’kmaq, plans have begun for a major development that will bring thousands of residents and could lead to a mall rebrand.
“It’s kind of like ‘finally,'” said Rebecca Thomas, a Mi’kmaw author and former Halifax poet laureate who has long called for a name change.
Using the Mi’kmaq (pronounced mig-uh-maw) incorrect spelling to this day perpetuates an “uneven hierarchy” of what a real name is, not to mention disrespectful, Thomas said.
But Thomas said that while renaming the mall — and eventually the adjacent Micmac Boulevard — would be a necessary step, the future project offers much better opportunities to support Indigenous people, including affordable and collaborative housing.
“If we change the name [the street] … After Rita Jo, and then we build condos that cost at least $300,000 on Rita Jo Boulevard, and not one person from the Mikmaw community can live there, then it’s as offensive as leaving. The name is what it is,” Thomas said.
“What’s helpful is helping the Mi’kmaw people achieve … safe, decent housing and not having to choose whether their child eats breakfast or their child stays warm at night. That’s much more important.”
Since the 2020 report, the city has been working on renaming various city assets after Halifax’s controversial founder Edward Cornwallis and other English Micmac words such as Micmac.
Developer Joe Ramia told the CBC on Thursday that while M District is the name for the development, the Mi’kmaw community is being consulted about the mall’s name and no final decision has been made.
Anything neutral is “less damaging” and could work, Thomas said, suggesting Dartmouth Mall or the Lake City Shopping District.
Last week, Halifax District Council approved the start of neighborhood planning for the “M District,” which will see the development application moved along with any changes to land use bylaws, parks or transit centers.
WM Fares Architects will handle the project on behalf of Ramia’s Rank Inc., according to a staff report.
The current plan is a phased project that develops the mall’s parking lots and chapter buildings into seven 30- to 36-story residential towers (approximately 1,660 units) and five nine-story residential buildings with ground-floor retail (approximately 240 units).
There will also be a 12-story retirement facility (about 400 units) and a 6- to 14-story addition on the west side of the mall that will include parking, office and entertainment space. Underground parking is also planned.
Councilor Sam Austin said he had heard mixed reviews but knew the huge development would naturally bring a “shock factor”.
But the area already has transit, schools, nearby parks and services that make it ideal for more density, Austin said. That’s the mood around the board table last Tuesday.
“Really now the question is, ‘Okay, so it’s suitable for a big development.’ what does it look like What’s the scale, what’s the public space, you know, how does it all fit together?” Austin said in an interview.
The development is in the preliminary stages and there will be plenty of opportunities for public consultation in 2023, Austin said, but added he was pleased to see a pedestrian bridge extend over the ring road and connect the footpaths.
However, Austin said he would like to see the mall’s exterior better designed and integrated into the new residential areas so it doesn’t result in “just a few buildings scattered around the mall.”
Consultation in 2 stages
“If we add an area basically the size of a small town to its edge, suddenly the exterior of the mall becomes quite significant,” Austin said.
“I hope we can think a little bigger.”
Rank Inc. Owns five of the six plots of land in the M District area, including the mall, while JD Irving Limited owns the final plot. He has not yet submitted plans for the plot of land where the office building now stands.
The staff report states that public consultation on District M will continue in two phases.
There will be mailings to neighbors, the project will be added to the Shape Your City website, and there will be a public meeting to explain the process going forward.
Once the draft master plan is drawn up, it will be brought back to the community for a second phase.