What's in a name? Now that the construction of a second bridge between Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario is moving forward, the question of what to call it is more pressing.
When it was first contemplated, it was referred to as the Detroit River International Crossing, or the DRIC. This was a placeholder name for the project.
In 2011, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder renamed the project the New International Trade Crossing (NITC) to separate the project from the opprobrium heaped on it by critics. The new name and acronym were slightly more euphonious, but still temporary.
There have been discussions of the naming of this bridge in the popular press already. Some have suggested naming it after Hall of Fame Detroit Red Wings star Gordie Howe, perhaps the most popular Canadian of all time among Michiganders.
Naming a bridge of this significance for an individual, however great, would be an unusual step: typically, grand bridges have evocative names befitting major landmarks. Think of the Golden Gate or Mackinac bridges.
The Ambassador Bridge was so-named after the more prosaic Detroit River Bridge was rejected, and critics derided a proposal by the bridge's builder, Joseph Bower, to name it after himself.
The Peace Bridge between Buffalo, New York and Fort Erie, Ontario was intended to commemorate the centennial of the end of the War of 1812 in 1914, marking 100 years of peace between the two neighbours. With the bicentennial of the end of that war coming up, it might be fitting to call the new bridge the "Peace Bicentennial" bridge, but that would no doubt cause confusion.
Evocative geography can give rise to bridge names, as in the case of the Blue Water Bridge between Port Huron and Sarnia, the Niagara Bridge between the two cities named Niagara Falls, or the Thousand Island Bridge between Alexandria Bay, New York and Ganonoque, Ontario. But apart from the river, no similar features suggest themselves here.
Some bridges are simply known for the cities on either side: the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge is an example. At Sault Ste. Marie, the bridge is just called the International Bridge (but it is the Soo Bridge affectionately for most of us).
The acrimony, political negotiation and wrangling that has arisen around the second Detroit-Windsor crossing was remarkable. It certainly doesn't suggest that this would be another "peace" bridge, since Michiganders in particular almost came to blows over it. In the end, Michigan legislators could not find the money to pay the state's share of the construction of the new bridge: In addition to shares from the U.S. federal government, the Canadian federal government, and the Ontario provincial government, the Canadian federal government agreed to advance the amount of money that Michigan was expected to contribute and to be repaid gradually by bridge tolls.
Some observers have pointed out that it is in the Canadian national interest for Ottawa to take this step, but it is still a generous gesture that Canadian taxpayers might have refused. And that is typical of our Canadian neighbours: Remember just a few years ago when the North American auto industry was in financial crisis, Canada was the only country to step forward -- voluntarily -- to join Washington, DC in providing financial bailout help to General Motors and Chrysler.
As Americans and as Michiganders, we are lucky to have the Canadians as neighbours. They are not without their faults -- none of us are -- but it has been 200 years since we last fought one another (off hockey center ice), they have come to our aid many times, and their trade and hard work contributes to our prosperity. Without Ontario on the other side of the Detroit River, Michigan might be like Alaska, a peninsula sticking out on the margins of the United States; thanks to Canadian proximity and our bridge and tunnel connections, Michigan is at the heart of the continental economy and surrounded by friends.
And so, with Canada's 145th birthday around the corner, on July 1, I propose that we call the new crossing the Canadian Bridge. Not just because they're paying more than their share, but to honor Canada as a great neighbor and friend.
Being Canadian, they would be too polite to propose this themselves. Being Americans, never shy about cheering greatness in others, it is up to us to insist. If you agree, take a moment this weekend, perhaps on Canada Day, to email Governor Snyder at Rick.Snyder@michigan.gov, and tell him "Let's call it the Canadian Bridge."