The federal government has been asked to change the name of Tillmann Brook, near Fall River, because it is named after a notorious art thief and Nazi sympathizer.
However, a spokeswoman for the Geographical Names Board of Canada said the watercourse doesn’t fall under its jurisdiction and referred questions to the Nova Scotia government.
John Mark Tillmann pleaded guilty to 40 charges including fraud and theft after hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of stolen historical and antique artifacts were found in his home on Miller Lake in 2013.
He was given an eight-year sentence, but was paroled in 2016 and was barred from being in or near Miller Lake.
An anonymous letter sent last month to the federal naming board, two members of Parliament and several media outlets, including The Chronicle Herald, called for a change to the name of the brook, saying Tillmann’s conviction and white supremacy sympathies have left “a stain of hate” on Fall River and the local watercourse.
“While the residents of Fall River and Millers (sic) Lake were protected by a Parole Board of Canada order that Tillmann stay away from the community, his presence is part of the landscape of the community,” the complainant says.
“The government of Canada was deceived into participating. The community was stained.
“The community should have the name struck from the registry . . . (and) a new name befitting of the nature and place should come from the community to right a wrong on us all.”
Jerri Southcott, a communications adviser with Natural Resources Canada, said the federal government received a complaint about the name, but when it comes to provincial properties, like Tillmann Brook, the geographical names board’s role is simply to record the decision.
“The only thing that the GNBC does is actually archive it,” she said. “They actually get the documentation provided by Nova Scotia and maintain it in the archives.”
A spokesman for Nova Scotia’s Internal Services Department, which oversees mapping and naming, said the province had received a copy of the letter, but that wouldn’t necessarily trigger a name change.
Brian Taylor said staff were checking Wednesday to see if an official request had been filed.
According to government websites, naming applications include demonstrated community support through a plebiscite or petition and approvals from the local municipal council and MLA.
Tillmann Brook was named in 1999 following the standard process, Taylor said in an emailed statement.
“There was a subsequent, incomplete application that was submitted in 2015 to have the name changed,” he said. “Staff reached out to this applicant to help them submit the necessary information to move the application forward, but received no reply or further action from the applicant.
“It is not uncommon for applications to stay quiet for periods of time, as this process is completely community driven. Staff are always willing to help engaged citizens navigate the name change process, and we would certainly work with anyone who would like to put forward a new name for the brook, just as we would any other place name in the province.”
Steve Streatch, Halifax Regional Municipality councillor for District 1, which includes Fall River, said he hadn’t heard of anyone requesting a name change for the brook.
Streatch said he knows Tillmann’s family well, but not the infamous son.
“The family, short of his reputation, is a good family and wellrespected in the area,” he said.
Tillmann’s avowed support for Hitler is “terrible,” the councillor said.
“Not many people give Tillmann junior much credit these days,” Streatch said. “It’s an interestingtopic and I understand people being upset for various reasons.
“I would hope that it doesn’t go beyond. There’s an old saying, ‘The sins of the father are worn by the generations.’ In this case, it’s of the son, and I would hate to think that the rest of the family would be drawn into this, because that’s not my experience with the other members at all.”
Streatch said Tillmann’s conviction on fraud and theft has been difficult on the rest of his family.
Tillmann’s father told the Herald in a brief phone interview he is not surprised someone is upset with his son, but the interview was cut short after someone else declined comment on behalf of the family and hung up. In a video released as part of the evidence at his trial, Tillmann hosted a tour of his Miller Lake property in 2011, and in brief parts displayed Nazi sympathies.
The nearly 14-minute video mostly shows off his house and contents, including expensive vehicles and historic and antique artifacts.
About halfway through the video, Tillmann zooms in on a photograph of Adolf Hitler from 1935, which Tillmann calls “a picture of the great man — one of the greatest men in history. A decent man, and he has a special spot in my office in my home.”
Later, on a boat tour of Miller Lake, he shows where Tillmann Brook flows in from Soldier Lake. Tillman says he and his mother had the brook named in 1999.
“There’s a Jew who lives in that cove there and he’s a doctor, so I think it’s kind of an appropriate name to go near him,” Tillmann says, and then chuckles.
He also shows off the mouth of German Creek, which he says he had named in 2009.
Tillmann Brook, at the north end of Miller Lake, and German Creek at the southern end, are both officially listed in the Canadian Geographic Names database as having been approved by the province.
In an April 2016 interview with CBC’s The Fifth Estate, Tillmann said he stood by his admiration of Hitler and white supremacist politics.
Tillmann, who was 51 when he was arrested in January 2013, had stolen more than 10,000 pieces, including paintings, books, tapestries and a suit of armour.
Many of the items had been sold over the years, but some of those recovered included a letter written by George Washington, a 1758 letter belonging to Dalhousie University that was written by Gen. James Wolfe days before the British left Halifax for battle with the French at Louisbourg, two 1800s-era marriage documents, four books belonging to Mount Saint Vincent University and an 1819 painting that belonged to the library at Province House.
The RCMP were tasked with finding the owners of about 1,600 artifacts, and among their successes,in 2015 they managed to have a first-edition copy of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species returned to the library at Mount Saint Vincent.