Monumental Names

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It’s been a while since I’ve returned to Montreal to visit, and approaching 40 years since I left.

What caught my attention was the name changes, often toward prominent political figures of the last 50 years. Naming a place after a person is a form of memorialization of that individual; a trigger for remembrance. Yet for many, the names no longer trigger a memory, rather, they act as a reference that can be searched with Google.

The intersection that was formerly Dorchester and University is now René Lévesque and Robert Bourassa. The humour of this connection caught my attention: the intersection of two premiers of Québec, two ideologies, the separatist and nationalist, two political parties, the Parti Québécois, and the Liberal Party. A juncture marked by two referenda that nearly ended in the dissolution of Canada.

Lévesque was a passionate man who believed in the separation of Québec from Canada; Bourassa was clinical, unemotional, an economist. I don’t think there could have been two so very different personalities.

I met Lévesque once, briefly in 1974, two years prior to him being elected as premiere of Québec. He was honest and straight forward, he was down to earth, not an elitist. He was a chain-smoker. Today he might be called a populist, but he was smart and quite capable of challenging the political intellectuals of the time. I would have voted for him, had he not had separation as part of his agenda, because I believed he would do what he promised, and if not, it was not for lack of trying.


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