Warning: This story contains words and phrases that may offend some readers.
A West Island woman is putting pressure on the Quebec government to change all place names in the province that have a racially offensive word.
Pierrefonds resident Rekeisha George she says can’t understand why it’s taking so long to have the N-word removed from Quebec landmarks, after the Quebec Toponymy Commission promised to strip French word nègre or its English equivalent all Quebec place names.
According to George, some of those names can still be found online.
“I looked to see if I could book a hotel for like next week for two people four days whatever,” she told Global News, “and you can for Nigger Rapids (near Gatineau).”
Other place names she said she found on maps include Lac à Ti-Nègre near Shawinigan, Lac du Nègre in Western Quebec and Le Buttereau-du-Nègre on Îles-de-la-Madeleine.
As a result, she launched a petition hoping to push the commission to officially change the names of these places.
“Because it’s offensive and it’s not a place that I personally would visit, no matter how pretty it is,” she pointed out.
George says she’s buoyed by other efforts to remove symbols of Black slavery and subjugation of Indigenous peoples, like the push to remove the statue of James McGill from the Montreal university which bears his name, because he owned slaves.
There are those, however, who caution against getting rid of the N-word in place names, saying doing so helps to erase the story of slavery in Canada.
“I believe that you cannot change history,” stressed Gabriel Bazin, vice-president of the Black Coalition of Quebec, “and I believe this name belongs to the Canadian heritage.”
His and other Black rights groups say places like ‘Nigger Rock’ near St. Armand, where Black slaves are thought to be buried, should keep the name. The groups want the location formally recognized as a historical site by the Canadian government.
George thinks there are other ways to preserve history.
“You can have history but you don’t necessarily need to use a derogatory word to promote that,” she insisted.
She concedes, though, that if the word was to remain in some cases, a plaque or other way of explaining the context of the word would be needed.
In a statement to Global News, Quebec Toponymy Commission spokesperson Chantal Bouchard said there are no official place names that contain either word, and that once the names were removed, the commission began the process of finding new names, but they haven’t set a deadline.
“Until now, only Lake Shawinigan (Lac à Ti-Nègre) has been officially replaced by the name Lac Honoré-Gélinas,” Bouchard wrote.
“The Commission examines any replacement proposal submitted to it.”
She continued, “… the names concerned no longer appear on official maps of the Government of Quebec or in signage. Despite the Commission’s efforts, these names may still appear in certain places, in particular on certain cards produced by private publishers.
“The Commission, which has no legal authority to compel private card publishers, has repeatedly asked Google to remove the names, but without success. Other bodies, such as RCMs and municipalities, have also asked Google to remove these names. They did not succeed.”
Bouchard said anyone can check the commission’s website to see if a name is still official.