Goodbye, Park Avenue

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Yesterday morning, Montreal city councillors voted to rename Park Avenue after former Quebec premier Robert Bourassa in a motion that passed 40 to 22. Opponents of the name change were not surprised. We are Montrealers, after all, which means we know enough about this city’s political process that we have been engrained with a deep cynicism. We know that citizens and ordinary city councillors are excluded from the most important decisions, which are made behind closed doors by the all-powerful executive council. We know that, as if by fate, Montreal mayors become so smitten with their unchecked power that they eventually transform into the autocrats they once derided.

That doesn’t stop us from being disappointed. It wasn’t long ago that the Gazette announced that name change opponents were just five votes shy of winning a council vote; then, last week, Mayor Tremblay held a caucus meeting. Afterwards, many of the councillors who had indicated they would vote against the name change mysteriously changed their minds. Anyone who has listened to Tremblay deliver a speech knows how unlikely it is that they were swayed by his impassioned rhetoric. So what convinced them to toe the party line in what was obstensibly a free vote?

Even more mystifying is Tremblay’s stubborn refusal to back down from his poorly-hatched plan. He had no political capital to gain from renaming Park but plenty to lose from insisting, against mounting public opposition, on forcing it through. Perhaps this was simply payback for a political friend. Whatever the reason, Tremblay’s career will be tarnished by this whole controversy. Montrealers have long memories and they will remember Park Avenue for years to come — especially if, as the Gazette reported yesterday, provincial law requires the existing Park Avenue street signs to be marked with red Xs for an entire year before the street is renamed.

Some have compared Park’s renaming to Dorchester Boulevard, which was renamed after René Lévesque in 1988 and is still called Dorchester by a shrinking number of anglophones. In an editorial that appeared in La Presse, Robert Bourassa’s nephew, François Lebel, insisted that the opposition was rooted in petty anglophone greivances towards his uncle. Tremblay’s office, in an official letter that attempted to justify the mayor’s position, condescendingly referred to the movement as being led by “neo-Montrealers” wishing to preserve “their history,” implying that the people who wanted to save Park Avenue were ethnic others of marginal significance to Montreal. But the reality is that support for Park Avenue has been incredibly broad-based. A random sampling of one of the online petitions includdes the following names: Laplante, Richard, Staszewski, Simard, Takeda-McKee, Lum, Lefebvre, Ghazi, Beaudoin, Melançon. Neo-Montrealers? Hardly. Montrealers is more like it.

There is still one small shred of hope: the name change faces one final hurdle. Sometime over the next few months, it will be scrunitized by the provincial toponomy commission, which could in theory reject it due to the widespread public opposition. That said, the toponomy commission is usually a formality. The cynic in me tells me that, on the day Tremblay finally relinquishes his office, some years in the future, he will drive home along Avenue Robert-Bourassa, smug in his triumph over the community he was meant to serve.

Below, the Gazette reports on the reaction of Park Avenue residents and merchants to the result of today’s council vote.

‘This sucks!’ – Park Ave. residents unhappy with name-change vote

Montreal Gazette
Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Some were too mad to talk. Others only heard about the vote results from a reporter.With one exception, people interviewed on the street and in businesses on and around Park Ave. on Tuesday were stunned and upset that city councillors sided with Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay and voted 40 to 22 in favour of changing the name of Park Ave. to Robert Bourassa Ave.

“No way! That’s so sad, we’re losing a part of history,” said Meghan Kearns, buying bagels on St. Viateur Ave.

“Why don’t the politicians just respect what the family wanted, that would be common sense,” said taxi driver Paul Giannopoulos of the Bourassa family’s request that St. Joseph Blvd. be named for the late premier. “Tremblay just wants to show his buddies he’s grateful to Bourassa for his start in politics,” Giannopoulos added.

“I’m surprised,” said Paul White when informed of the vote results. “I thought there was a lot of backlash against this change. I’m sure there was some serious arm twisting that went on.”

“This sucks. It’s ridiculous and a waste of time and money,” said Gord Price. “It’s a bad reflection on our city because it’s undemocratic. Politicians in this province do exactly what they want,” Price said.

“Good. Why not?” said Johanne Bourdon who came from Laval to get bagels. “He (Bourassa) was a good politician and you have to agree with the name change.”

Many Greeks in the neighbourhood had criticism for borough mayor Helen Fotopoulos, despite the fact that she made an 11th hour switch and voted against the mayor to keep the Park Ave. name.

“Blame Helen, she’s only good when she wants our votes,” said Steve Rokakis, outside his store selling statuary and imported olive oils.

“I grew up here and my kids grew up here,” said Roula Karidogiannis, inside the Nettoyeur à la Grecque. “ I’m too mad to talk to you. Everyone sells us out, the mayor and Helen. Why did I vote for her?”

Roula’s son Chris Karidogiannis is the executive secretary of the Park Ave. Merchants Association.

“I’m disappointed but not surprised,” Chris said.

“The mayor reneged on his promise (to allow everyone to vote their conscience) and held emergency caucus meetings on Wednesday and Thursday. He whipped them back in line, without a doubt,” Chris said.

“I don’t think they should be changing the name without asking the people first,” said Kyla Vanderlind, a cashier at the 4 Bros. grocery store.

“Forty to 22?” said accountant Costa Tzicas, shaking his head.

“I knew listening to the news on Monday night…it was obvious to me that they had made up their minds, it’s too bad,” Tzicas said.

“I’ve had a business here for 33 years and I own the building,” he said.

“Everybody knows Park Ave., it’s a well-known name. I was disappointed in Helen, she should have stood up for the people earlier,” Tzicas said.

This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Wednesday November 29 2006at 01:11 am , filed under Canada, Heritage and Preservation, Politics and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

8 Responses to “Goodbye, Park Avenue”

  • Owen Rose says:

    Let’s hope that the long memories of Montréalers remind them that there is a new municipal alternative to Tremblay’s UCIM party: http://www.projetmontreal.org/

    “It is pointless trying to decide whether Zenobia (Montréal) is to be classified among happy cities or among the unhappy. It makes no sense to divide cities into these two species, but rather into another two: those that through the years and the changes continue to give their form to desires, and those in which desires either erase the city or are erased by it.”

    – page 35, Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities, translation by William Weaver, 1972.

  • aj says:

    If I’m not mistaken this decision still has to go before the provincial toponymy commission, so there’s still a chance to nip this name change in the bud, or at least register grievances (and, as Owen notes, to strongly imply that we’ll vote them out of office next time around).

    A suggestion I heard while listening to the radio yesterday: name one of the two new superhospitals after the premier. Failing that, I have no objection to them changing St-Joseph Blvd as originally planned — he’s already got the Oratory, right?

  • Christopher DeWolf says:

    News articles and updates on Park Avenue can be found on the discussion forum:

    http://urbanphoto.net/cafeurbanite/viewtopic.php?p=1032#1032

  • Nikolaos Karabineris says:

    How to write your letter to the Commission de toponymie (CHQ)

    The following guide was prepared by an urban geography professor.

    The decision of the Montréal City Council has to be approved by the CTQ. Contrary to the “miserabilist” editorial published in the Montreal Gazette on Nov. 29, appealing to the CTQ is not a lost cause, and this body has a rigorous set of criteria for judging the merit of proposed place name changes. The City’s request will be evaluated according to the Politique de designation toponymique commémorative (sec. 1.6. of the Politiques Toponymiques; http://www.toponymie.gouv.qc.ca/poltopo5.htm

    The Commission will receive, study and take seriously all letters received from individuals and groups, contesting the City’s decision and/or asking for the Commission to hold public hearings on the matter – as long as the writers of these letters provide valid reasons for their concerns. In other words, petitions and form letters will not cut much ice. Some groups are taking legal advice in order to strengthen their presentations to the Commission. That’s good, but individuals shouldn’t feel that they have to have legal advice to write an effective letter! To make your letter effective all you need to do is show how your concerns relate to any or all of the specific criteria that the CTQ is required to use when it evaluates name-change requests. Here are some key extracts from the Commemorative Toponymy Policy, with my unofficial translation in square brackets, and some observations of my own that may be helpful:

    1.6.1. Cadre d’application [Framework for Application]

    Choix des lieux [Choice of places]

    ‘On attribue une désignation commémorative à des lieux sans nom ou à des lieux dont les noms sont tombés en désuétude.’ (…) [‘Commemorative designations are attributed to places that do not already have a name or to places whose names have fallen into disuse/have become obsolete.’]

    – This particular extract of the policy was left out of the email sent around from Dimitri Roussopoulos the other day, but I think it’s crucial. This clause of the policy allows for place names to be changed if they have fallen into disuse, but the clause can also be interpreted to mean that a name can be changed if it is no longer relevant, if it no longer has resonance for today’s population. I remember that this was the argument used  (successfully) to change the name of Boulevard Dorchester to Boulevard René-Lévesque – the argument being that Lord Dorchester is not really relevant to contemporary Montréal and its citizens.
    – So, as regards Park Avenue, your letters need to explain why the name has relevance, significance, symbolism for you in the present day.
    Saying that it’s a historic name is not enough – you need to say why it is still important to recall this history through the name of the street.
    Your letters can address this point with respect to all or all of these: residents; businesses; ‘neo-Montrealers’ (!!!); the identity of the
    adjoining neighbourhoods; the link with Parc Mont-Royal; the prestigious association with New York; tourists, etc.).
    – Also, some of you might have heard an interview a few weeks ago on CBC Daybreak with M. François LeBel, a nephew of M. Bourassa, in which he
    argued that Montrealers should be willing to “sacrifice something important” in order to commemorate his uncle. By this comment M. LeBel
    revealed that he recognized that the name of Park Avenue is indeed important to many people! His notion that it should be “sacrificed” is
    totally contrary to the policy of the CTQ.

    Consultation du milieu [Consultation with the milieu]

    ‘L’attribution d’une désignation commémorative nécessite la consultation à ce propos de la communauté qui vit à proximité du lieu
    choisi, de même que la consultation, le cas échéant, de l’entourage immédiat de la personne dont on veut honorer la mémoire et celle du milieu
    concerné par son action.’ [‘Attributing a commemorative designation requires consulting the community living in proximity to (in the vicinity
    of) the place to be renamed, as well as, when relevant, those close to the person whose memory one wants to honour and that of the milieu affected by that person’s actions.’]

    – Letter-writers wishing to address this point will need to give their opinion as to whether Mayor Tremblay’s way of consulting the
    ‘community living in the vicinity’ of Park Avenue was adequate. What he did was: 1) allow councillors to have what he said would be a free vote
    and saying that those councillors could do consultations; 2) say that the statutory question period at City Council meetings was a means of
    consultation. What he did not do was arrange for any kind of organized consultation process for those ‘living in proximity’ to Park Avenue.

    – Also, there is the question of how does the CTQ interpret the concept of living ‘à proximité’ [in the vicinity]? In my view (as an urban
    geographer by profession!) this should be interpreted as including all of the neighbourhoods that border on Park Avenue.

    – Concerning consulting those ‘close to the person’ to be honoured, we know that the Bourassa family was consulted and that they like the idea
    of renaming Avenue du Parc although it might not have been their first choice.

    – The requirement to also consult ‘the milieu affected by the person’s actions’ is wide open to interpretation. The word ‘milieu’ does
    not have a geographical connotation, more of a sociological connotation, and could be interpreted very broadly. So it could be more difficult to
    address this point in a letter to the CTQ.

    1.6.2 Normes et critères de choix

    Choix non controversé

    ‘Le choix du lieu et du nom devant faire l’objet de commémoration (…) ne doit pas être de nature à susciter la controverse.’ [‘The choice
    of place and the name to be commemorated should not be such that it creates controversy’].

    – Obviously the proposal in question has created enormous controversy. What letter-writers need to stress is that the controversy is about the obliteration of a name that is very meaningful (for you personally; for certain groups of Montrealers; for Montrealers in general…). The Executive Committee claimed that it believed that the name Park Avenue was a ‘generic’, ‘neutral’ name without strong heritage associations and that people did not care about. The Toponymy Commission knows that many people do care, but they need to get lots of letters explaining all the reasons why.

    – At the same time, the letters need to say that the principle of choosing a significant place or piece of infrastructure to name after the
    late Premier is not controversial. It just should not be done at the expense of an existing name that is very meaningful to many people and
    vital to the identity of your neighbourhood (be it Park-Extension, Mile-End, Lower Outremont or Milton-Parc).

    WHERE TO SEND THE LETTERS

    Madame Danielle Turcotte
    Directrice et Secrétaire
    Commission de Toponymie du Québec
    750, boulevard Charest Est, rez-de-chaussée
    Québec QC
    G1K 9M1

    Fax : 418 644-9466
    email : danielle.turcotte@gouv.qc.ca

    WHEN TO SEND THE LETTERS

    Soon! Some media reports say that the CTQ will decide on 16 January
    2007, while other reports say it will not be until March – but the sooner
    you write, the better!

    Hope this is helpful. Best to all,

    Damaris Rose
    Professeure titulaire / Professor (urban and social geography)
    INRS-Urbanisation, Culture et Société
    Institut national de la recherche scientifique
    Continue to page 2
    The postings of extracts from the Commission’s policy document have
    left out one very important point that people need to look at and use in
    their letters:

    1.6.1. Cadre d’application [Framework for Application]

    Choix des lieux [Choice of places]

    ‘On attribue une désignation commémorative à des lieux sans nom ou à
    des lieux dont les noms sont tombés en désuétude.’ (…) [‘Commemorative
    designations are attributed to places that do not already have a name or to
    places whose names have fallen into disuse/have become obsolete.’]

    – This clause of the policy allows for place names to be changed if
    they have fallen into disuse, but the clause can also be interpreted to mean
    that a name can be changed if it is no longer relevant, if it no longer has
    resonance for today’s population. I remember that this was the argument
    used (successfully) to change the name of Boulevard Dorchester to Boulevard
    René-Lévesque – the argument being that Lord Dorchester is not really
    relevant to contemporary Montréal and its citizens.

    – So, as regards Park Avenue, letters need to explain why the name has
    relevance, significance, symbolism for you in the present day. Saying that
    it’s a historic name is not enough – you need to say why it is still
    important to recall this history through the name of the street.

    Please spread the word! Can you post it on the site somewhere, in the
    blog maybe (I don’t know how to join/log on).

    Damaris Rose 514 271-6888, damaris_rose@ucs.inrs.ca

  • Carl Brisson says:

    I think the public is stupid cause the’re complaining about this but not about another name change wich is the change of the ave. in front of the bell center to Maurice Richard.
    Yes it might suck for the habitants of park ave. but think about the people in afganistan, think of what their living now. What do you think?

  • Christopher DeWolf says:

    I’m not sure what Afghanistan has to do with any of this…

    Renaming the block of de la Gauchetière in front of the Bell Centre is an example of how street renaming should be done. It isn’t the whole street that will be renamed and the only address on the new Maurice Richard Avenue will be that of the Bell Centre. No other residents or businesses will be affected. Most importantly, the historic name of de la Gauchetière will be preserved for 95% of the street’s length, including where it counts the most, in the crowded business district of Chinatown.

  • carl brisson says:

    k thanks for answering chris.

  • Well, it’s not “Goodbye” after all!