Photo is of Bleury Street, looking south from Sherbrooke, taken by me on July 2, 1976, just 15 days before the opening of the Montreal Olympics.

At the time of the 1987 re-naming of Dorchester Boulevard, I wrote to at least a dozen other North American city administrations to learn how they dealt with such issues. I received responses from all of them, studied them, and placed them away, as the Rene Levesque Boulevard signs went up so quickly that the question seemed over before anyone could possibly organize any resistance to it.

Upon re-examining it, it becomes clear that the problem in Montreal is that this city, unlike most others, has no real policy with regard to the protection of historic toponymy. Essentially it is simply left in the hands of the Executive Committee, none of whom I suspect are historians or individuals who have any particular love of this city’s history.

The letter I received at the time from the City of Vancouver contained this sentence: “Council has been reluctant to change street names already in existence due to the cost and confusion caused to businesses and residences in the area.” From the City of Houston, Texas: “Generally 100% of the adjacent property owners must agree to the street change before a recommendation to the City Council is made, because of the impact to existing commercial and residential development.” From the City of Philadelphia: “Most Council people weigh public sentiment before taking such a step; and a public hearing, at which testimony is offered, always precedes action on proposed legislation.” From the former City of Mississauga: “We would initially contact the Historical Society through the Councillors’ offices and receive their comments with respect to the renaming. Further, we would also contact all the residents on the street and would request their approval of such a street name change.” Mississauga set the bar at a 75% approbation level.

Most of the other cities I heard from maintained essentially the same standards.

While most of today’s negative reaction has centered around the re-naming of Park Avenue, in the case of Bleury Street, it should be pointed out that it appears in the first edition of the Lovell’s Directory of the City of Montreal for the year 1842 and, according to the municipal study “D’où viennent les noms de nos rues?” (published in 1961), the designation is initially found in this city’s toponymy in the year 1815 – nearly two centuries ago.

The issue is not, therefore, one of finding an “acceptable” street to rename, it is a question of respecting our past and the people who came before us. Our heritage should be added to, not subtracted from. Clearly, the Montreal City Charter must be amended so as to protect the names of all the streets of this city, particularly those more than a century old. If it is not done (and done soon), we could one day, at the foolish whim of yet another lacklustre mayor, lose even Ste. Catherine Street.

Robert N. Wilkins,
Telephone: 514-524-5247