Muskoka renames district road to honour Wahta Mohawks First Nation

Wahta Mohawks Photo by Shutterstock/Anna Kraynova

Muskoka Road 38 winds through the District of Muskoka’s backcountry, connecting Highway 169 to Highway 400. Weaving through maple trees and granite outcroppings, the road cuts straight through the heart of the Wahta Mohawks First Nation.

Displaced from their homes in Kanesatake, Oka, Que. by the federal government, the Wahta Mohawks were relocated to Muskoka in 1881. Yet, despite the peoples’ long history with the area, they’ve had little opportunity to establish an identity. But that’s beginning to change.

On March 20, the Muskoka District Council passed a unanimous resolution to change the name of Muskoka Road 38 to Kanien’kehá:ka Iohatátie, meaning Mohawk People Road. The name change is part of the district’s attempt to strengthen Indigenous relations and honour its side of the truth and reconciliation process.

In June 2022, a multi-jurisdictional working group started meeting to figure out the details associated with changing a road’s name. The group included district staff from roads and transportation, geographic information systems, communications, and the continuous improvement unit, as well as staff and elected officials from the Township of Muskoka Lakes and Wahta Mohawks First Nation. The group discussed what impact a name change would have on databases, such as Google Maps, how it might affect emergency services, and what kind of budget would be required to replace road signs.

To select a name, Wahta Mohawks First Nation staff began an engagement campaign, reaching out to community members through newsletters, emails, direct mail, in-person outreach, and various social media platforms. Community members were asked to submit names in Kanien’Kéha, the Mohawk language, along with the English meaning of the name and the rationale for selecting it.

Forty-five names were submitted. Wahta Mohawks First Nation staff created a naming committee to narrow the submissions. The committee included Wahta Mohawks chief and council members, Wahta community elders, Wahta community youth, and two fluent Kanien’Kéha speakers. Three possible names were selected: Kanien’kehá:ka Iohatátie (Mohawk People Road), Wahta Iohatátie (Wahta Road), and À:kweks Iohatátie (Eagle Road).

In February, a tri-council was assembled, which included Wahta Mohawks Chief Philip Franks, Wahta Mohawks Councillor Lorie Fenton-Strength, Township of Muskoka Lakes Councillor Ruth Nishikawa, and District Chair, Jeff Lehman. Georgian Bay Mayor, Peter Koetsier, chaired the meeting as an unbiased facilitator. The tri-council had the opportunity to ask questions about the Wahta Mohawks’ history and the name selection process. In the end, the council adopted Kanien’kehá:ka Iohatátie as the new name for Muskoka Road 38.

“The new name, Kanien’kehá:ka Iohatátie, recognizes the Wahta Mohawks as a people and the territory where we live,” said Chief Franks in a statement. “Kanien’kehá:ka Iohatátie is no longer a number on a map; it now indicates an active community of people who have a unique language, culture, and history in Muskoka.”

The name still needs to be ratified by the Township of Muskoka Lakes’ council, which will likely happen in April. And Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation needs to sign off. The road’s grand renaming is scheduled for September 2023 in conjunction with the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

As this name change will impact more than just the peoples of Wahta Mohawks First Nation, district staff are working to educate and support locals affected in the area—there are approximately 200 residential and commercial properties along Muskoka Road 38. To ease the transition, the district is offering a goodwill payment of $100 to each household or business along Muskoka Road 38. The payment is intended to cover the time and cost associated with updating identification, contact information, signage, and business materials.

Any residents or business owners with questions about the name change can contact Tina Kilbourne, project manager, at 705-645-1200 x 4308 or

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