Russell, Ontario, incorporated as a township in 1854, population 16,520 (2016 census), 15,247 (2011 census). The Township of Russell is located 33 km southeast of Ottawa. It was named after Peter Russell, an official in the government of Upper Canada.
Despite its proximity to Ottawa, settlement was slow to develop in the area because of a lack of roads and mediocre land which was heavily forested. As late as 1850 there were only 64 permanent residents of the township. Many early residents combined farming with work in lumbering, and a number of small villages, including Embrun and Russell, were formed in the township. In later years, dairying became an important local industry. Today many residents work in Ottawa-Hull, and the township is closely tied to the economy of the National Capital Region.
The township of Russell is named after Peter Russell, an office holder and politician in Upper Canada. In 1791, John Graves Simcoe, the lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada, appointed Russell to the colony’s executive and legislative councils (see Politics of Ontario). Simcoe also made Russell the government’s receiver and auditor general.
Russell was also a slave owner. He and his half-sister, Elizabeth, enslaved four Black people: Peggy Pompadour and her three children: Jupiter, Amy and Milly (see Black Enslavement in Canada). In 1793, Simcoe introduced legislation to abolish slavery in Upper Canada. Russell and at least 11 other members of the 25-person government owned slaves or were members of slave-owning families. They opposed the legislation, and as a result, the government arrived at a compromise. While the Act to Limit Slavery in Upper Canada was passed in 1793, slavery was not abolished in British colonies until 1833 (see Slavery Abolition Act, 1833).
Because of Russell’s history as a slave owner, in June 2020 community members launched a petition calling for the township to change its name. In July, municipal councillors voted in favour of a motion that said the township will no longer honour Russell’s legacy. While the township’s name won’t change, it will be rededicated to someone else with “Russell” as either their first, middle or last name.