Coderre calls Amherst a 'stain' and to yank general's name from Montreal street

By The Canadian Press
September 13, 2017 - 7:45am

MONTREAL — Jeffery Amherst, the British general who supported giving smallpox-laced blankets to Indigenous Peoples and whose military victories ended French rule in Canada, will no longer be honoured with a street name in Montreal.

"Goodbye Jeffery Amherst," Mayor Denis Coderre said Wednesday at an event marking the 10th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Coderre said Amherst is a "stain on our history" and the street just east of downtown that bears his name must be renamed in order to move forward on the path of reconciliation with the native community.

Amherst Street, located in the city's gay village, is named after a man who wanted to "exterminate" native people during the 1700s, Coderre said.

"As far as I'm concerned, if we're talking about reconciliation, we need to recognize this fact and by changing the name we're sending a strong message," he said alongside Ghislain Picard, the Chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador.

Coderre said the change will occur "soon" and, while he wouldn't say what the new name will be, he hinted it will be connected to the native community.

"We will ensure it will be renamed right away," he said. "It could be the name of a native chief, or called the avenue of reconciliation. I don't know."

Picard said the name change is "very well accepted" by native people in Quebec.

"The importance is for the city to show its intention to take action," Picard said. "There are pages of our collective history that we need to turn over, pages that we also need to forget."

Whether to remove the name Amherst has been an ongoing debate in Canada for some time. The discussion also reflects the larger debate in North America on what to do about symbols commemorating controversial figures.

Amherst, born in England in 1717, was made commander in chief of North America and is credited with conquering Canada and defeating the French.

French rule on the continent was effectively over after Amherst's army forced the capitulation of Montreal on Sept. 8, 1760.

His name appears across the continent and can be seen in such places as the town of Amherst, N.S., and Amherstburg, Ont.

Last April a member of the Mi'kmaq Nation traditional government called on Parks Canada to rename the Port-la-Joye–Fort Amherst historical site in Prince Edward Island.

In August, the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario voted to ask school boards across the province to remove the name of Canada's first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, from schools. The teachers suggested he was responsible for many government policies, including the residential school system, that hurt Indigenous Peoples.

Others point to the fact Macdonald was ahead of his time with regard to his opinions toward Indigenous Peoples and argue he and others shouldn't be judged through a 2017 lense.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Macdonald's name wouldn't be changed on anything within federal jurisdiction.

The debate over celebrating controversial historical figures is arguably more contentious in the United States. Statues and other markers remembering Confederate and other pro-slavery figures have been the subject of protests, heated debate and violence in many jurisdictions in the country's southern states.

Earlier on Wednesday, Coderre presented the city's new flag and coat of arms, which includes the addition of a white pine tree to reflect the history of Indigenous Peoples and their contributions to the city.

The Montreal's new coat of arms and flag still includes the Fleur-de-lis, the thistle, the rose and the shamrock, which represent the other peoples who founded and developed Montreal — the French, the Scottish, the English and the Irish, respectively.

The white pine tree was chosen by an advisory committee designated by the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador. It was comprised of members from various First Nations as well as a representative from the Centre d'histoire de Montreal.

Giuseppe Valiante, The Canadian Press

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