Let’s Decolonize Our City’s Streets
We Need to Recognize Figures Who Didn’t Support Genocide
I grew up in a suburb of Montreal called Dollard-des-Ormeaux, which is named after a man who ambushed and killed 700 Haudenosaunee people.
This horrific massacre was called the Battle of Long Sault.
Growing up, the name Dollard-des-Ormeaux was just a fact of my environment. I hadn’t given it much consideration for a very long time and if anything, I might have assumed that Dollard-des-Ormeaux was someone who had done good. When walking past or along Amherst St., I didn’t think about the person behind the name either.
Jeffrey Amherst was a British army officer who lived in the 1700s. He was a colonizer, a lover of war and violence and most notably, he wanted to eradicate all Indigenous people with the use of smallpox blankets, a method of biological warfare.
The street named after him in the Gay Village is one of the many streets in Montreal that were named after people who thought very much like he did. These names surround us, but many of the atrocities that these people committed and supported have been buried along with this country’s constant need to pretend that we are America’s perfect cousin.
When we name streets, buildings, schools, and towns after these people, we are placing them in a position of honour. We are approving their actions and saying that these are people who should be remembered.
John A. Macdonald is still a very well known name. After all, he was the first prime minister of Canada. He also wanted to destroy Indigenous cultures and peoples.
Macdonald upheld the Indian Act, which until the 1950s made it illegal for First Nations people to sue the government or practice their culture. It arranged for First Nations people to be wards of the very state that settled on their lands and oppressed them. Macdonald also helped set up the residential school system. His actions led to the deaths of hundreds of children, and yet children still attend schools across the country that were named after him.
On a positive note, there are many incredible Canadian and Indigenous historical figures who saved hundreds of people, who believed in things that would only improve other people’s lives, who made great works of art or who survived and thrived despite the bad situations they had been placed in.
There are Black and Indigenous people who deserve street signs, other people of ethnic, racial, and religious minorities who deserve street signs, LGBTQ people, disabled people, and women who are just as deserving. Why not delineate history with the people worthy of being remembered? For example, we have several streets named after the many obscure Christian saints, but not one named after influential Canadian jazz musician Oscar Peterson.
Amherst is not the first street or monument to have been stripped of its colonial title. The part of Mount Royal that used to be the Outremont peak was recently renamed to the Kanienkehaka name, Tiohtià:ke Otsira’kéhne. These name changes will hopefully be the catalyst to many more.
New names should be honouring people who made this country better, and of course, to remind us that we are currently occupying unceded Kanienkehaka territory. Possibly the most important would be to not name things after people who committed genocide and definitely not even somewhat imply that these people were good. I imagine these changes will happen slowly, but hopefully they will lead up to what I believe would be the most ideal: returning the island of Montreal to its Kanienkehaka name: Tiohtia:ke.
A decolonial map of the city can be found here.