This is a street fight Montreal doesn’t need

jeudi 13 août 2009

It’s bad enough that east-end city councillor Nicolas Montmorency wants to pick a whole new quarrel over language. But the stunning ignorance and repudiation of history revealed by his foolish gesture is even worse.

Montmorency, a 29-year-old independent councillor from Rivière-des-Prairies-Pointe-aux-Trembles, wants to change the name of Amherst St., on the grounds that Montreal is too English and that British General Jeffery Amherst (1717-1797) once proposed sending smallpox-infected blankets to Indians. Montmorency is, we’re guessing, also aware that Amherst besieged Montreal and captured the city, in 1760, for which he was later created "Baron Amherst of Montreal."

(In truth, French is in slight slow decline in Montreal simply because francophones are moving off-island, fleeing high taxes and poor services - a trend city councillors have done nothing to stop.) Naturally the loud and truculent Jeunes Patriotes du Québec, always eager for trouble, were quick to endorse Montmorency’s proposal. The anglophone 13 per cent of electors in his district, on the other hand, have not yet been heard from, but since Montmorency says he will not run again, their views may not matter much.

No doubt the historical Jeffery Amherst had his flaws. But we invite Montmorency to find us somebody in history without some. Would he rename métro Lionel-Groulx, and the street for which it’s named, because Groulx disliked Jews ? What about Boul. Maurice-Duplessis (right in Montmorency’s district) ? That street crosses, among others, Ave. Alexis-Carrel, named for a Nobel-prize-winning French geneticist who advocated eugenic purging of human-kind. And don’t get us started on Dollard des Ormeaux.

Montmorency’s indignation about Amherst reveals his historical illiteracy, but it appears to be really just a smokescreen for anti-English bias.

But Montmorency should remember that previous street-name changes - as in 1967 when Maplewood Blvd. became Boul. Edouard-Montpetit, or in 1987 when Dorchester Blvd. was renamed in honour of René Lévesque - have failed to drive out the English.

Of course, Montmorency also wants to abolish existing English-style names of several other streets, changing McGill College Ave., for example, to Avenue du Collège McGill. Perhaps he would then say McGill itself should become French-only. Of course the school’s name would have to go. This way madness lies.

City Hall, no doubt remembering the Park Ave.-renaming fiasco, has shown zero enthusiasm for Montmorency’s hare-brained scheme. Good. Surely even a lame-duck councillor has something better than this to worry about.


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