Quebec mining town shortlists four new names to get fresh start

Asbestos was once a popular material for insulating buildings, and the town’s mine was the largest single source of the product in the world. (Image courtesy of Town of Asbestos | Facebook)

The town of Asbestos, Quebec, stopped mining the deadly mineral it’s named after several years ago. Now it’s preparing to shed the name itself.

At a meeting Monday evening, the town’s council presented residents with four choices ahead of a vote next month. The options, narrowed down from 1,000 suggestions, range from the last name of the mine’s first operator, Jeffrey, to a turtle species, Apalone. They also include Phénix, a reference to the mythical bird, and Trois-Lacs, a neighborhood of Asbestos.

The shift to a new identity, announced in November and delayed by the pandemic, is designed to help the town move away from a moniker that’s associated with cancer in English. (In French, the mineral is called amiante.)

The shift to a new identity is designed to help the town move away from a moniker that’s associated with cancer in English

Several investors over the years have balked at committing money to Asbestos because of its name, Mayor Hugues Grimard said in a phone interview last year.

“It’s an important decision that sparked a lot of emotion,” Grimard said Monday. “But the municipal council remains convinced it’s the best thing to do for the future of our town.”

The announcement has been dividing citizens in the town of about 7,000 people, many of whom count family members who worked in well-paid jobs at the mine and are attached to Asbestos’ history. Some have also questioned the need to drop a name that doesn’t have a meaning in French, the majority language in Quebec.

Residents aged 14 and above are asked to rank the four names in their order of preference during an Oct. 14-18 vote. Early reactions on Facebook suggested Trois-Lacs had fans, while many also criticized the short list.

“Asbestos was a good name, after all,” one quipped.

(By Sandrine Rastello)

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