Well, well, well! The chickens have come home to roost!

After arbitrarily changing the designation of a 170 – year – old street name, Mayor Denis Coderre let it be known that he does not agree with the possible re-naming of a future link to replace the 52 year – old Champlain Bridge! The mayor is quoted as saying that “if he had his way, the replacement span would still be known as the Champlain Bridge.” 

In my opinion, Coderre, and others, are just getting a taste of their own toponymic medicine.

With the renaming last September of the most historic part of University Street in the hypothetical honour of the late Quebec premier Robert Bourassa, and Conservative Transport Minister Denis Lebel’s recent suggestion that the new span to cross the St. Lawrence River may very well take the name Pont Maurice Richard, both discordant steps have something very much in common. In the two cases, there was not the slightest hint of a desire for popular input with regard to how either individual in question should be remembered.

Revealingly, unlike the contentious question of University Street, the bridge controversy also appears to have awakened Quebec sovereignists to the issue of patrimonial toponymy. While they uttered not a word about the re-baptizing of one Montreal’s most celebrated thoroughfares (I wonder why?), interim Parti Québécois leader, Stéphane Bédard, has taken a strong position against a different moniker for the new proposed south shore link, claiming that Ottawa is insulting the memory of one of Quebec’s founding fathers. (Actually, I thought Champlain was known throughout the land as the “Father of Canada”, which, of course, would be news to the indigenous peoples of this country.)

“This is Quebec territory. It’s our bridge. It belongs to us,” Bédard bellowed. From this forceful comment, one would think that the provisional P.Q. leader might want Québec actually to pay for the new span! But I digress.

Current Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard seems to be the one caught in the middle on this most recent toponymic hullabaloo. Couillard, who seemingly without a second thought also supported the name change of University Street, appears to have been taken aback by the intensity of the péquiste reaction to the idea of a new bridge named after a hockey great, albeit un québécois pure laine. “So the decision belongs to the federal government, but I encourage it to make it carefully, to take into consideration the importance of continuing to honour the memory of Samuel de Champlain while perhaps finding a way to honour the memory of Maurice Richard,” the premier is quoted as saying carefully. Perhaps one side of the span named after Champlain, and the other half after Richard?

The one who made the most sense in all of this was the French president, François Hollande on an official visit to Canada. “France is not exerting pressure on anyone to baptize or re-baptize bridges, streets or avenues. We have enough confidence in history to know it’s not a bridge or street which will cultivate memories,” Hollande is quoted as having said. Very wise, indeed!

Below, François Hollande, photographed by me on St. Lawrence Boulevard on November 4, 2014 (article continues below the photo)

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One can only wonder why, in the case of University Street, municipal authorities and, in the case of the new bridge, federal authorities are always unwilling to consider some form of popular consultation on how best to honour someone’s memory. What might they be afraid of?

An on-line consultation would be relatively easy and inexpensive to organize, and would surely bring about a much broader consensus upon how to proceed. At the very least, a mechanism should be put in place to protect permanently place names that have been with us for so long. As CAQ leader is quoted as saying: “It could be that it’s not very appropriate to remove something that already exists.” Also very astute.

Depending on the outcome of this latest entanglement, Mayor Denis Coderre, a resolute hockey fan, could very well be looking around for a prestigious avenue to pay tribute to the late Maurice Richard. In that regard, it’s time for Montrealers to make it clear to him that we do not want to lose another of our famous street names at His Worship’s caprice.

Below, Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard

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