British names on street signs grate in Montreal
Councillor wants McGill, Amherst ‘Frenchisized’
Giuseppe Valiante, National Post; With Files From Canwest News Service Montreal’s French identity is being eroded by the creeping influence of the English language, examples of which include street signs that are graced with the names of genocidal British conquerors, says a Montreal city councillor.
In order to curtail the invasion, Nicolas Montmorency, an independent councillor in Montreal’s east end municipality of Riviere-des-Prairies-Pointe-aux-Trembles, is proposing the city rename Amherst Street, named after the former commander and chief of the British army who captured Canada, Jeffrey Amherst.
He is also asking councillors to vote to cease using “non-francophone expressions” in public places and to “Frenchisize” existing English street names, such as McGill College Avenue and City Councillors Street.
The two motions will be proposed at the Aug. 24 city council meeting that he hopes will “bring back Montreal’s French character,” according to the Facebook group he has set up.
The first motion cites that Montreal’s “essence and charter” make it a French city, and the French language is at the heart of the identity and culture of all Montrealers regardless of origin, therefore all public places should have French names and expressions.
The second motion claims that Jeffrey Amherst pioneered the practice of genocide in the Americas with the use of bacterial agents and also states that he had previously declared the native people a “vile race.”
“The culture and history of Montreal’s English should not be unjustly represented by someone overtly in favour of the extermination of a people,” reads the motion.
Louise O’Sullivan, a mayoral candidate in the upcoming municipal elections, is reportedly supporting the motion.
Darren Becker, a spokesman for the City of Montreal, said the city is focusing its time on infrastructure and public transit, not “rewriting history.”
“If no one seconds [the motion] it won’t be debated and I can tell you that it certainly won’t be seconded by anyone from the mayor’s party or team,” Mr. Becker said.
All of Montreal’s streets adhere to the city’s charter, which stipulates that words such as road and street must be in French. But “the street names in Montreal reflect the history of the city,” said Mr. Becker. “The names date back to when there were French and English mayors, that’s just a reality.”
He pointed to the flag of Montreal, which is adorned with four emblems reflecting the “founding fathers” of the city: the fleur-de-lys for France, the shamrock for Ireland, the thistle for Scotland and the red rose of Lancaster for England.
How history is represented in Montreal has always been contentious. Streets have changed names depending on the political party in power.
Dorchester Boulevard, originally named after Lord Dorchester, a governor of Quebec after the British conquest, was renamed after the former Quebec premier Rene Levesque — except where the street passes through Westmount, a predominantly English-speaking area with strong British roots.
Thousands of Montrealers were furious after the current mayor proposed changing the historic street that lines the east flank of Montreal’s mountain, Parc Avenue, after his political mentor, the former Quebec premier, Robert Bourassa. Mayor Gerald Tremblay was forced to back down.
Calls to Mr. Montmorency’s office were not returned as of press time.
Montmorency also wants University St. to become rue de l’Universite, McGill College Avenue changed to Avenue du College McGill, and City Councillors Street to Rue des Conseillers municipaux.
Amherst was the British commander who captured Louisbourg in 1758, then laid siege to Montreal, forcing the French to capitulate in 1760.