Thursday, August 13, 2009

General Amherst versus Lionel Groulx

Another idiotic French versus English controversy has erupted with independent Montreal city councillor Nicolas Montmorency, of the Rivière-des-Prairies-Pointe-aux-Trembles district, saying that since the city is officially French, it's street names should be too.
Aside from that, he also wants that the name of Amherst street be changed, claiming that recognizing General Amherst is akin to having "Adolf Hitler Boulevard in Germany."

In 1760, during the Seven Years War, General Jeffery Amherst was commander-in-chief of the British forces that conquered Montreal. In 1763, during the Pontiac rebellion (which pitted the British against the local Indians), it was suggested by Colonel Henry, in an exchange of letters with Amherst, that smallpox might be employed as a weapon for the racial extermination of the Indians. General Amherst was favorable to the idea. Read a defence of Amherst in the Montreal Gazette.

"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 Montmorency's city council motion.

Not for one minute am I going to defend Amherst's actions, nor attack the idea of changing the street name, but starting a debate on the subject opens a whole can of worms, one that can't be helpful to French/English relations.

The city is just recovering from the fiasco wherein the proposed name change of "Parc Ave." to "Robert Bourrassa Ave." (after the late Premier) was met by a furious backlash in the city's Greek community and which ultimately led to the city backing down.

Montreal is perhaps unique in that many street names represent rival historical figures of both English and French heritage. Some of these figures are nothing less than demons to militants on the other side. Perhaps the best example of this is are the Montreal streets 'Wolfe' and 'Montcalm' which are located back to back and honour the two generals who led the opposing English and French forces at the Plains of Abraham. Ironically the streets lie adjacent to Amherst St.

Most Montrealers are mature enough to let sleeping dogs lie. Better to accept the differences and go on with life.

Upon examination, there's are a lot of other streets named for historical figure that if judged by today's standards would also be eligible for a name change.

Lionel Groulx (Metro station and street name) is the one that is at the top of the list. A priest who is proudly remembered for his spirited defence of the French Canadian nation during the first two-thirds of the last century. Unfortunately his brand of nationalism included a virulent case of anti-semitism and a belief in the fascist doctrine that was then currently in vogue in France and Germany. He preached for a racially and religiously pure Quebec. Groulx argued against the immigration to Canada by Jews, Mennonites, Mormons and other non-Catholics.

In his book L'Appel de la race (The Call of Race,) he taught that;

"the children of ethnically mixed marriages suffer from a form of schizophrenia because they are inhabited by two different souls."

Although apologists argue that his views should be seen in the context of a time when the Catholic Church was also espousing these views, it remains an open question as to whether it is appropriate to continue honour him.

Come to think of it, does Henri Bourassa, also a rabid anti-Semite, deserve a street named after him?

"Indeed in 1905 in the most vituperative anti-Jewish speech in the history of the House of Commons...Bourassa urged Canada to keep its gates shut to Jewish immigrants."- Canadian Encyclopedia

How about James McGill. Shouldn't being a slave owner, preclude one from the honour of an eponymous street name?

I'm sure we can go down the list and find, that judged by today's standards, a great deal of our heroes, who's names adorn city street signs, would not pass muster.

Do we really need or want a 'Truth and Reconciliation' commission concerning street names.

I don't think so, but there are those still spoiling for a fight.

Gabrielle Dufour-Turcotte des Jeunes Patriotes du Québec has entered the fray with an online petition advocating the changing of the name of Amherst street. This thick-witted organization hasn't had an original thought since it's inception, but rises to action every time a good confrontation can be found.

The best comment on the controversy was made in a letter to the editor in the French language daily, Metro Montreal;

Change English street names? I am tired of this nonsense. It's University Street and not Université because it's adjacent to McGill University, which also goes for McGill College.

Eliminate the name of Jeffrey Amherst because he was a "scoundrel", according to Gabrielle Dufour-Turcotte des Jeunes Patriotes du Québec? Fine, if we also remove the name of anti-Semite Lionel Groulx from the metro station and the streets that bear his name.

Yes, it's ridiculous, like the endless desire of some of us to eradicate any evidence of the presence and history of the anglophone population of Montreal. Remember that we are not the enemy and that Montreal is ours too.
-John Ronald

1 comment:

  1. Nicolas Montmorency is hypocrit with no class; just another petty, vindictive, classes twit making Montreal look bad. The trouble is he speaks for many people. Montreal has a well documented history that shows who built Montreal (and Quebec for that matter). Most folks know Montreal is not a French city.. As many have already pointed out, it's a city where the majority speak the french language. If that majority feels threatened or under represented by the few remaining English street signs, that's friggen pathetic. If they think they can change history by hiding the evidence, that's stupid. And If they don't think we can see the sanctimoniousness, that's irritatingly ignorant. Oh, the joy of living in Montreal and watching Quebec's velvet apartheid unfold one pin prick at time. The Anglos community is suffering death by a thousand needles.