April 10th, 2008

Imperial Pedigree

Posted in Art and Design, Canada, History by Christopher DeWolf

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Peel Street, Montreal

I had travelled more than 15,000 kilometres only to stand, once again, at the corner of Peel and Wellington. Of course, it wasn’t the same Peel and Wellington as back home — with a shared colonial past, it shouldn’t be surprising to find some similar street names in both Montreal and Hong Kong.

In Montreal, Peel and Wellington finds itself in the heart of Griffintown, a neighbourhood that was once a centre of industry and working-class Irish life. In Hong Kong, it sits in the middle of a busy market district in Central, an area that was once part of Victoria City, Britain’s nineteenth-century foothold in South China. It seems somehow appropriate that, even halfway across the world from one another, Peel Street and Wellington Street intersect. Peel was named after Robert Peel, a Tory who first elected to Parliament in a “rotten borough” home to just 24 easily-bribed voters, and who served twice as Prime Minister, from 1834-35 and 1841-46. Wellington Street was named after Peel’s longtime ally, the Duke of Wellington, another two-time Prime Minister who served one of his terms immediately after Peel.

There are plenty of other names that will ring familiar to anyone who has spent time in a former outpost of the British Empire: Elgin, Dalhousie, Drake, Drummond, Granville, Argyle. Like shadows left behind by a passing giant, they testify to a kind of globalization that began before the term even existed.

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Peel Street, Hong Kong


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One comment

  1. Cedric Sam says:

    That’s a very interesting remark. I had a thought today about street names, as I was walking in the streets of Taipei. There were several historical personalities streets like “Roosevelt” or “Zhongshan” (no CKS, however), a number of streets named for general stuff like the equivalent of “Du Parc”, and then, something that we don’t have here, names of cities in China, like “Chongqing”, “Chengdu” or “Nanjing”. The latter seems like a remarkable constant, whether you are in Beijing, Shanghai, or Hong Kong (“Peking Road”, anyone?).

    April 10th, 2008 at 12:18 pm