‘Sadness, anger, mistrust’ surrounds Montreal’s proposal to name REM station after late premier

Click to play video: 'Fighting for Irish recognition'
Fighting for Irish recognition
WATCH: One month after Montreal's Mayor made waves by tweeting her proposal to name the REM station in Griffintown after Bernard Landry, more voices have joined the chorus opposing the move. Yet as Global's Anne Leclair explains, despite a petition and strong opposition form the city's Irish community, Valerie Plante says she has no plans to back down – Dec 9, 2019

A proposal to name a future light-rail station in Montreal’s Griffintown neighbourhood after late premier Bernard Landry continues to spark outcry in the city’s Irish community.

Donovan King, a tour guide in the city who sits on the board of directors for the Irish Monument Park Foundation, is the latest voice to speak out against the suggestion.

In an open letter to Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, he argues that the Irish community built Griffintown and that it is offensive to its descendants if the Réseau express métropolitain (REM) station is named after Landry.

“I am advising you, as your ambassador, to withdraw the proposal out of respect for the Irish community during this period of deep mourning,” he wrote.

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The proposal is creating “much sadness, anger and mistrust” within the community as remains have been dug up during REM excavation at the site, according to King.

“It really upset the Irish community,” he told Global News. “I’m talking it really upset people.”

In late November, archeologists digging at the site in Griffintown discovered bones that they believe belong to some victims of the Irish potato famine.

In 1847, more than 70,000 Irish refugees came across the ocean in hopes of creating a new life in Montreal. Of them, 6,000 died from a typhus epidemic upon disembarking on the shores of the St. Lawrence River.

Earlier in the month, Montreal’s Irish community also spoke out against the city’s plan to name the future REM station after Landry. Fergus Keyes, a director of the Montreal Irish Memorial Park Foundation, said that doing so is an insult to Irish heritage.

The Plante administration has stood by the plan, saying Landry did a lot for Montreal and Quebec. In November, her office said in a statement that naming the station after him is appropriate, given that Landry wanted to develop the Cité du Multimedia.

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Plante once again defended the proposal on Monday.

“The fact that we have the name ‘Griffintown – Bernard Landry’ creates a dialogue that we still need today,” she said. “But it doesn’t minimize the huge contribution of the Irish community to the city of Montreal.”

In his letter, King suggests instead naming an area near Duke and Brennan streets, which is currently home to a dog park, after the late premier.

“We’re simply asking for her [Plante] to withdraw the proposal and that’s it, there’s other great ways we can commemorate Bernard Landry but please not this way this is something the Irish community will never accept,” said King.
Click to play video: 'Irish community up in arms over naming REM station after Bernard Landry'
Irish community up in arms over naming REM station after Bernard Landry

Kimberly Budd, who is visiting the city from Alberta, is of Irish descent. She believes Montreal should honour its origins.

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“I think it’s important to recognize your roots no matter whether it’s popular or not,” she said.

“Erasing the Irish part of the history would take away a lot of the character of Montreal.”

The REM has said it is open to the city’s proposal but will establish a committee to organize the naming of stations.

“The process is based on principles and guidelines, in collaboration with our partners from other Montreal’s public transit organizations, to assure the uniformity of the name and according to the location of the station,” said the REM in a statement to Global News. “Cities and institutional partners were consulted in the process.”

The Réseau express métropolitain said it’s finalizing the integration of the station into the community. An announcement with the City of Montreal will be made at a later date.

— With files from Global News’ Anne Leclair, Amanda Jelowicki and the Canadian Press

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