Montreal Mayor Hormidas Laporte, 1904 – 1906.

The article which follows will be published in the next edition of CONNECTIONS, the quarterly of the Quebec Family History Society, an anglophone genealogical association based in Pointe Claire, Quebec.

On March 25, 1902, the now defunct Montreal Star ran a piece entitled “The Changing of Street Names.” The item in question recounted how, as a result of a “number of protests” being received, the municipal council had created a special committee to determine the parameters around which citizens might request a street name change. (It would seem that at that time the initiative with regard to this whole process came from the population as a whole.)

As a general rule, the article went on, “many members of the committee thought the custom of changing the names of streets was a very bad one.” The committee further argued that the “changing of street names was confusing in the extreme.” Consequently, a procedure was established that was to be followed by citizens who wished that a particular toponymic designation be altered. The approach itself was not particularly complicated but again it’s important to stress that the initiative was to come from the citizenry. Systematic consultation of the residents and merchants directly concerned was the cornerstone of the policy, along with public notice of the issue being placed in the press. Both proponents and opponents were to appear before the committee with regard to a possible name change. A history of the existing designation was also to be provided to the committee by the archives of the Road Department.

The Star reported further that the conditions were considered to be very fair and that “it was not right that a few persons could sign a petition and get the name of a street changed. It was thought that these conditions would considerably reduce the applications for changes in names.” How all this contrasts starkly with the high-handed approach taken now-a-days by our civic leaders.

In fairness, it should be pointed out that the authorities of the time strayed somewhat from their own policy when on October 3, 1905, the City Council, acting on a recommendation from the Road Committee, arbitrarily abolished historic Craig Street from the city map. Henceforth, it would also be known as St. Antoine, a street which, in any event, already ran contiguous with it.

As was recently the case with the Bleury Street and Park Avenue controversy, the residents and merchants inhabiting Craig Street at the time were, to say the least, annoyed. There was a sense that the determination was made very quickly, without consultation, and that several councillors who would probably have spoken against the change were absent at the time. Forceful (and familiar) arguments were made about the cost of the modification to the merchants concerned and also about the loss of history in the elimination of a century old popular street name.

On October 5 of that same year, The Gazette editorially opposed the suggested change with essentially an economic claim. “To change its name will be to cause inconvenience to some of the largest business enterprises of the city, which have long been established upon it, and whose advertisements will for a time lose some of their value if the change is persisted in. Much stationery also will be rendered entirely or partially useless by the new order.”

Interestingly, the mayor at the time, Sir Hormidas Laporte, seeing the general dissatisfaction and unhappiness with the contentious decision, was one of the first to urge council to reconsider. Laporte’s instinctive sensitivity to the feelings of those he governed contrasts greatly with what Montrealers face today. Accordingly, later that same year, the same City Council that had previously adopted its original resolution by a vote of 18 – 6, reversed itself, and rescinded the measure.

So Craig Street survived an additional 67 years, until 1972 when a different city administration – led by Jean Drapeau (another mayor who was not particularly fond of, or sensitive to, public consultation) abolished it once and for all. We do, however, hear vestiges of its existence in the frequently used expression “Craig’s Curve” to designate that particularly dangerous bend on the Jacques Cartier Bridge found immediately above the former Craig Street !

In this regard, even if history has taught us that popular toponyms do not die easily, now, as then, we need a set of clear rules that protect our significant street names. While awaiting those guidelines, a more citizen-friendly and responsive mayor would help.

Author’s note: This item was written before Mayor Tremblay’s February 6 about face on the issue of re-naming Park Avenue and Bleury Street after the late Quebec Premier, Robert Bourassa.