History books will tell you that the Cabot Trail—the 298 km of highway that snakes along Cape Breton Island’s jagged terrain—is named after John Cabot, who landed in Canada in 1497. What they don’t say, however, is that the Venetian explorer’s real name was Giovanni Caboto. This irks Michael Tibollo, president of the National Congress of Italian-Canadians. So much so that the Toronto lawyer is proposing an “o” be added to the end of the trail’s name on signs and maps.
The thought of changing the name to Caboto Trail—renaming part of the trail came up as a motion in the House of Commons last year but died when the election was called—has spiralled into a cross-provincial spat of sorts. “I’m getting all these negative ‘You Upper Canadian,’ and ‘How dare someone from your part of the country . . .’ comments,” says Tibollo. “I never intended to create a rift between Nova Scotia and Ontario.”
Tibollo says a name change would simply highlight the bond between Cape Breton and Italy, and be a potential boost for the island’s tourism-dependent economy. But Norman MacDonald, president of the Cape Breton Genealogy and Historical Association, says there’s “overwhelming opposition” to the idea. “I don’t think changing the name would bring more Italian tourists,” he says. “We’re very much in favour of heritage discovery trips, but I can see no positive benefits to changing the name.”
Tibollo—who was told by David Wilson, the Nova Scotian minister of communities, culture and heritage, that local MPs would have to be consulted on the issue—insists that he’s received positive feedback from many Cape Bretoners. Still, he’s disappointed in the overall reaction. “As much as we call ourselves a multicultural society, we have a situation where there are some people very set in their ways of looking at things.”