Bernard Mendelman: Changing city landmarks

In columns that I wrote over the years I have campaigned to change some of our city names and landmarks including the Lionel Groulx Metro Station.

There is a growing demand to rename the Lionel Groulx Metro Station to Oscar Peterson Metro Station. Born and raised in Montreal’s Little Burgundy district, Peterson became one of Canada’s most notable musical talents. His stellar career included eight Grammy awards, the Governor General’s Award for lifetime achievement and investiture in the Order of Canada.

In columns that I wrote over the years I have campaigned to change some of our city names and landmarks including the Lionel Groulx Metro Station. Groulx (1878-1967), a Quebec Roman Catholic priest and historian has been well documented as being an anti-Semite. During his lifetime he often displayed some form of open hatred of Jews. While Groulx was opposed to all non-Catholics, he had expressed a particular hatred of Jewish people and Judaism in particular. He opposed immigration to Canada by Jews, Mennonites, Mormons and other non-Catholics. Groulx was against allowing, even temporarily, Jews fleeing the Holocaust in Europe. When Groulx was studying in Europe, he wrote letters to his family in which he asserted that everything possible should be done to keep Jews out of Quebec.

My choice was to rename that Metro after Canadiens’ Jean Béliveau, who passed away in 2014. Béliveau was revered by our minority communities. The fans loved him not only for the standards of excellence that he set playing hockey and the pride he took in his profession but also for his lifelong charity and humanitarian work off the ice.

The reason I did not suggest Peterson as my choice is that in 1999, in his honour, Concordia University had already renamed its Loyola-campus concert hall, The Oscar Peterson Concert Hall which is one of the principal performing arts venues in Montreal holding concerts, lectures and musical productions. In addition, in Little Burgundy, Campbell Centre Park was renamed for Peterson, who grew up on Delisle St., just blocks from the park. People in the neighborhood say it’s a great way to honour a man who is a hero in the heart of the city’s black community. The Oscar Peterson Park is a popular community gathering with its children’s playgrounds, wading pool, basketball courts and soccer and baseball fields.

I also advocated the change of Amherst Street, which runs through downtown in the eastern part of the city. The street was named after Jeffery Amherst, a revered British general who served during the Seven Years’ War in New France and modern day Nova Scotia. To his discredit, Amherst wanted to exterminate Indigenous peoples. In a letter penned in 1763, he advocated the use of biological warfare, through smallpox blankets, to kill Indigenous peoples. Mayor Denis Coderre promised to rename the street, but never did. However, Mayor Valérie Plante had it renamed Atateken Street, which denotes the idea of equality among people in Kanien’kéha, the Mohawk language.

There is also a campaign started as an online petition by Hannah Wallace, an Indigenous graduate of McGill University to have the statue of James McGill removed for it has no business being on campus because he owned both Black and Indigenous slaves.

I welcome your opinion of any other city landmarks that should be done away with.

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