From Asbestos to Val-des-Sources 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



On October 19, 2020, the Mayor of the former Canadian mining town called “Asbestos” announced that the third round of a referendum to change the town’s name had resulted in a 51% majority of the 2,796 votes1 cast in favor of the name Val-des-Sources (in English, Valley of Sources or Valley of Springs), a reference to the town’s location at the confluence of three lakes. In second place was the name Trois-Lacs with 26.6% and coming a distant third and fourth were Larochelle and Jeffrey-sur-le-Lac.2 During a livestreamed extraordinary meeting of the town council broadcast at 5:30 p.m. via Facebook on October 19, the new name was adopted by the council and was, said Mayor Hughes Grimard, now being submitted for approval to Quebec’s toponymy commission and then to Quebec’s Department of Municipal Affairs.3 According to the Mayor, there is no deadline for the decisions by the Provincial authorities but he is optimistic that signs in the town could be changed by Christmas.4 The Facebook page for the town was changed almost instantly.

The debate over the negative impact of the town’s name had been ongoing for years with former Mayor Louise Moisan-Coulombe explaining some of the issues in the rebranding exercise as follows:

“Once upon a time, we have been very proud of that name, but now it’s very difficult because asbestos means a fiber that people are afraid of... Every time you say, especially in the United States, that you are coming from Asbestos, or they read Asbestos on a package, they are always afraid that it will be poison.”5

The former Mayor of Asbestos and first Mayor of Val-des-Source Hugues Grimard told journalists that the new name well represented the area and that he was “convinced that our future will be prosperous and happy.”6 The town council, which had described the new name as “the fusion of our landscape and our roots,” appreciated the geographical as well as metaphorical allusions of Val-des-Source, saying it was “the symbol of what we have the ambition to become.”

The news that the residents of Asbestos were seeking to ditch their town’s toxic name had been reported in Russia, which also has a monotown built on the mining of chrysotile asbestos. Its name is Asbest, Russian for Asbestos.7 Whether the inhabitants of this town in the Urals will one day follow the example set by the Quebecois remains to be seen.

October 21, 2020


1 Residents of the town over 14 years old and local property owners were eligible to vote in the referendum; approximately 48% of eligible voters took part in the poll between October 14-18, 2020.

2 Town of Asbestos chooses new name: Val-des-Sources. October 20, 2020.

3 Quebec town of Asbestos votes to change name to Val-des-Sources. October 20, 2020.

4 Facebook Page of Asbestos (now Val-des-Sources).
New name for a Canadian town called Asbestos. October 20, 2020.

5 ‘For heaven rest us, we're not Asbestos’: Canadian town chooses new name. October 20, 2020.

6 Goodbye, Asbestos: Quebec town picks another name to help economy. October 20, 2020.

7 Жители канадского города Асбест проголосовали за изменение токсичного названия [Residents of the Canadian city of Asbestos voted to change the toxic name].
Асбест и Вандалы хотят сменить название. Ад и Дилдо - не хотят [Asbestos and Vandals want to change their name. Hell and Dildo - don't want to change their name]. October 17, 2020.
Канадцы отказываются переименовывать свой город в честь черепахи [Canadians refuse to rename their city after a turtle]. September 21, 2020.



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