No better example is the back-to-back Montreal streets of MONTCALM and WOLFE, which honour the two opposing commanding generals at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham.
Americans who pass through the tiny Quebec town of St. Georges de Beauce are confounded by the sight of the Auberge 'Benedict Arnold.' While it is understandable that across borders, one man's hero is another man's traitor, it gets a little complicated when the phenomena occurs within one single jurisdiction.
While it's easy to accept the dichotomy of honouring two opposites when the historical foundation is buried in the distant past, it's not so easy, when the honouree is a recently deceased personality, a well-known heel or hero, once again depending on a particular point of view.
And so there remains those who are displeased that one of Montreal's most important arteries was renamed to honour René Levesque, Quebec's first openly sovereignist Premier and likewise, Quebec nationalists are none too pleased about flying in and out of Montreal's re-named Pierre-Elliot Trudeau airport.
While other controversies swirl over the appropriateness of allowing street names to continue to bear the names of personalities whose traits or deeds would never qualify them for such honorific today, as in the case of Jeffrey Amherst, an advocate of genocide and Lionel Groulx, a rabid and vociferous antisemite, today we face a different dilemma.
We'd like to believe that we'd support the naming of a street based on the contributions and accomplishments of a candidate, but it's hard not to let political feelings interfere. I'm reminded of what Mark Twain once said, "There is nothing so weak as a virtue untested."
Although one of Canada's greatest authors, Richler remains a villain in much of French Quebec for his scathing criticism of Quebec society in his book, "Oh Canada! Oh Quebec," a biting indictment of historical Quebec, portrayed as tribal and antisemitic.
His reference to Quebecoise women as 'sows', forced by the Church to pump out as many children as possible, earned him the undying enmity of the nationalist movement.
Lost in all this, is the fact that Richler was an equal opportunity insulter. In his most famous book, "The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz," Richler's unflattering portrayal of his own Jewish community was typically unkind;
"But though Richler never had a flattering word to say about his central subject, Montreal Jews, or about the estranging environment of Quebec nationalism in which they increasingly found themselves lost—when his deadpan account of Quebec's absurd language wars was published in this magazine, in 1991, it became a literary and political schande* without precedent in his home town—he still became a local legend and then a kind of national landmark." THE NEW YORKERTo many nationalists, Richler was racist and cruel. Although most haven't even read his work and understand little of his caustic and acerbic style, they take it on faith that he is the epitome of evil, a Quebec-basher extrordinaire. Notwithstanding his success or fame, naming a street after such a character, talent aside, is an anathema. Lowbrow nationalists like Mario Beaulieu of the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal, are already howling in protest at the thought of Rue Mordechai Richler. LINK
(*Yiddish for 'shame'...ed)
Pierre Falardeau is a French version of Mordechai Richler. (or vice-versa).
A talented filmmaker who gave us the immortal character ELVIS GRATTON, there isn't any doubt that his artistic legacy remains an important part of Quebec culture.
Sharing not only Richler's artistic talent, Falardeau was also every bit as sarcastic and cruel as Richler.
He was a rabid nationalist whose dislike of Canada and anglophones bordered on the hysterical. Mr. Falardeau's extreme political view of the English and his penchant to shoot off his mouth, and his great good fun doing it, was particularly irritating.
Richler was considered by many Quebec Jews as being too negative and cruel. So too was Falardeau, as many Francophones considered him simplistic and uncouth and his rants against Canada and Anglos embarrassing.
Here's a particularly nasty skit of Falardeau making fun of anglos. Link(in French)
But politics aside, nobody can deny both these men's talent and the impact of their art on Quebec society.
While many hated the idea of Quebec as a racist society, Richler helped Quebeckers confront their past.
As for Falardeau, his most important work ELVIS GRATTON decried Quebec federalists as dim-witted, conservative and racist. Although not my cup of tea, his pro-sovereignist message was certainly entertaining and thought provoking.
Should one or the other get a street named after him?
It might be a sweet irony to see Rue Falardeau bisect Richler Street, the ultimate paradox of two cultures sharing a common address.
Perhaps we can rename the Lionel Groulx metro station after Richler and Amherst Street after Falardeau.
Come to think of it, nothing would change, hero or villain, the argument would continue....