On Saturday July 12, a large contingent of Francophile bike riders made their way through the streets of downtown and midtown Mobile, to Red or White wine bar, and later Firehouse Wine Bar. The stops were not made to relieve an obviously built up thirst due to the riders cycling in the summer heat, but were a part of the Mobilians on Bikes themed, “Less Bubba, More Bordeaux – A Bastille Day” inspired ride.
These cyclists, lovers of all things French, were not riding to incite riot and revolution in our fair city, but to help promote a return to our French roots. Principally, the group would like to see the name of Three Mile Creek changed to its original name of Bayou Chateauguay (named after Antoine Le Moyne de Chateauguay the sailor-brother of the founder of Mobile, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville).
I met Niklas Hallberg, one of the group’s leaders, and his merry group of riders at their first stop, Red or White. I drove. It was a festive atmosphere, and for someone who’s lived downtown for almost a decade, it was just further proof to me that the midtown/downtown area of the city continues to develop a strong communal spirit.
Hallberg later shared with me the etymology of the idea for the name change and the themed bike ride. He stated he and some friends were brainstorming about various things that could be done to make Mobile better. Changing the name of Three Mile Creek to Bayou Chateauguay was one of the ideas that resulted from that brainstorming. A couple of the group’s other leaders, Stephanie Gillis and Richard Walsh, came up with the idea of a Bastille Day ride, and then they decided to make the aim of the ride a promotion of the name change.
Richard Walsh related how to many people, the name Three Mile Creek conjures up images of a large industrial area along the waterway, or of an even more notorious name, “Three Mile Island.” He noted that it’s just not an inviting name, or one that would motivate citizens and visitors to want to access or make use of it. Conversely, the name Bayou Chateauguay, elicits images of beautiful flora and fauna, picturesque and serene water vistas, basically a place where people would want to come and enjoy.
Hallberg noted that having a restored and revitalized waterway (via the Three Mile Creek Watershed Management Plan) and a concomitant name change, are things that are very important to millenials and the creative class when they’re looking for a place to live and work. Current demographic trends bears this out. In an April 16, New York Times column, it was reported that “America is only in the beginning stages of a historic urban reordering. After over a half-century of depopulation, cities have been filling up – and not just with young millenials but with families and even older workers and retirees.”
What’s in a name? To Mobilians on Bikes quite a lot. The petition they have started on Change.org reads in part, “Our goal with this petition is to preserve our history and to enhance our sense of place when we hear the name Bayou Chateauguay … For more than a century it was the original name for what is now called Three Mile Creek … The name Bayou Chateauguay resonates with our French history and Mobile’s place in the world.”
I would agree. In the upcoming weeks the group plans on reading the petition before the Mayor and the City Council. Let’s hope they too see the merit in this effort, and embrace a piece of our past that has so much relevance for our present and future.