What’s in a Slogan?

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A mysterious monolith appeared at the southern entrance to the city, at the Parkway and Highway 115, last year and now, like the apes in 2001: A Space Odyssey, the people of Peterborough are being asked to give it meaning—preferably a meaning that will attract desperately needed tourists to the spot, which will soon host a greedy casino that will hoover up all our spending money and still be hungry for more.

The haste with which the City wants to slap a slogan on the thing, after erecting it blank and imposing for some strange reason, speaks volumes about the depth of vision at work here. The sign might as well say ‘T.B.A.’ That might even be an improvement.

The City’s own favourite phrase so far is ‘Where Roads Meet Rivers,’ which is not only inaccurate (there is only one river in Peterborough, though there are several creeks), but immediately calls to mind either the 2004 flood (as Donald Fraser noted), or that scene in The Office where Michael Scott’s dogged insistence on following his rental car’s GPS instructions lands him off the road and into a small lake. Not the kind of thing you want people to think of when they’re planning to visit.

It has also been pointed out that we already have a surfeit of good descriptive names for here.

The name Nogojiwanong, which translates roughly as the place at the foot of the rapids, has no need of an evocative slogan to go with it, as it already tells you more about the place than the name Peterborough, which translates roughly as Peter’s Fortress.

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Even among official local slogans of the last hundred or so years, there are some good ones, as Elwood Jones has written, but none better than ‘the Electric City,’ which we like too. “It immediately suggests the importance of manufacturing, of hydroelectricity generated on the river,” Elwood says, but “it also suggests that this is a place where people do amazing things.”

That is indeed the double meaning we were hoping for when we titled this magazine.

Though perhaps we reversed it: a winking reference to an old urban identity as a manufacturing powerhouse, and a more direct reference to the vibrancy and creativity of the city’s musicians, artists, and activists. We mean electric in the most positive, most evocative sense.

But industry was a decidedly mixed blessing to the community in the widest sense. Factories that provided jobs that paid mortgages and supported small downtown shops also released toxins into the soil (and the workers’ bodies) and dyes into the river; the hydroelectric dams that provided electricity and the system of locks and canals that transported goods damaged the flora and fauna of the area, killing off key local food sources and increasing our dependence on packaged food shipped from great distances.

Industry’s legacy is still playing out, particularly in the poor local job market and the ongoing reckoning of its environmental impact.

The literal Electric City’s decline is closely entwined with the rise of the figurative Electric City (and Electric City Magazine)—and the increased presence of Nogojiwanong, though that’s a far more complex story.

None of this matters much to the monolith makers. They just want something that tests well with a focus group so that when the casino goes hungry and heads start to roll, everyone has a record of having done their due diligence as professionals, and at least attempted to make the sign and the city welcoming, rather than dumbfounding and alienating.

Maybe ‘T.B.A.’ is the best option after all.

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