Mordecai’s dilemma

Fairmount Ave., hardly devoid of history

With the 10th anniversary of Mordecai Richler’s death approaching (and the resurgence of interest in his work), city councillors Marvin Rotrand and Michael Applebaum are doing some political organizing of their own. They’re trying to get people to sign an online petition that demands the city “make an appropriate gesture to commemorate the contribution of Mordecai Richler in naming a street, a public place or building in his honour.”

The petition doesn’t make any suggestions, doesn’t necessarily suggest renaming anything, and doesn’t even demand that it be a street. But the discussion has begun, and it has 683 signatures so far.

The Gazette’s Bill Brownstein made the first concrete suggestion: Fairmount Ave. in Mile End, where Wilensky’s is located. “That shouldn’t upset too many people, other than surviving members of the Bagg family,” he writes.

Well, there’s Fairmount Bagel, and Garderie Fairmount, and Fairmount Hardware. (Okay, maybe not that last one, it’s boarded up and closed now.)

And there’s the Société St. Jean Baptiste and other language/sovereignist hardliners, who just hate Richler. They denounce him for being divisive and demonizing politicians, as if they are themselves above both those things. They say he’s an anti-Quebec racist, which is an odd thing to say since he himself was a Quebecer.

It’s not that I agree with or think we should honour some of the meanspirited things that Richler has said. But if we can fawn over Pierre Falardeau despite all the crazy shit he’s said, certainly we can do the same for Richler.

More sane nationalists like Jean-François Lisée agree it is time we name something after Richler. According to the Commission de toponymie, the name Richler currently isn’t attached to anything in this province.

Rue Saint-Urbain and Avenue Mordecai-Richler?

Renaming is tricky

Rotrand has learned the value of public consultation in situations like this. The city administration had the best of intentions when it announced it was going to rename the generically-named Park Ave. in honour of Robert Bourassa. But residents and business owners mounted a huge campaign against it, arguing that not only would it cause practical problems like replacing dozens of street signs and forcing businesses to change their business cards, but that it would take away from the city’s history rather than adding to it.

It’s a no-win scenario. Rename something big and central like Park or St. Urbain, and you start poking holes in the city’s history. Rename something small like a side street and you diminish the importance of the person you’re trying to honour (Ruelle Nick-Auf-der-Maur, anyone?). Name a new street in a suburban development, and you might as well be naming something in another city.

Fairmount is an attempt at a compromise. It’s not as important as St. Urbain or St. Laurent, but it’s not some tiny side street either, and it’s right at the heart of Richler’s neighbourhood.

But Fairmount also has history, probably best known as the street that houses one of Montreal’s two most important bagel makers. Renaming the street might make sense in that context, or it might not.

So we have a vague campaign that leaves the biggest detail up to a city bureaucrat. And the pundits throw out their ideas too.

I think, like with Park, this process isn’t starting the right way. If this is to be truly a grass-roots campaign, it should start with the people who live and work on the street that would be renamed. If Fairmount Bagel and its neighbours want to mount a campaign to honour Richler, then the city should consider it. If some other street’s residents want to do the same, they should consider that as well.

The problem with this scenario is that it isn’t top-down, and the councillors are powerless to force it through. It depends on regular people spontaneously starting a major campaign with their neighbours to get something changed.

But that’s the only way I can see this happening to everyone’s satisfaction.

Of course, if it wasn’t a street we were renaming, the risks would diminish along with the rewards. Other naming suggestions have also come forward, from a small park to a sandwich or drink. Rotrand tells Radio-Canada that people have suggested a cultural prize or library would make more sense.

But nothing carries the same punch as a street named after you.

UPDATE (Nov. 14): Chantal Guy explores the subject and agrees with the idea, even if Richler wasn’t exactly a saint.

58 thoughts on “Mordecai’s dilemma

  1. Noah Sidel

    I’m entirely against re-naming streets these days – seems like a 20th-century (and before) solution to me… A) it opens way too many doors for debate, and B) affects too many lives and businesses. Richler is loved by some and probably hated by just as many, and re-naming a street is more likely just to ’cause a nasty debate and fall apart like Parc/Bourassa did.
    Choose a metro station that’s named after a street… how about the Laurier metro stop? It’s close by the same neighbourhood & is named after the street. Doesn’t poke a hole in the city’s history by any means.
    The best case I’ve seen was re-naming Parc-des-Iles after Jean Drapeau… didn’t really hurt anyone since it wasn’t already named after anyone in particular…
    I like that train of thought.

    Imagine the tradeoff… the battle is won to re-name Fairmount after Richler and is used as a precedent to re-name Queen Mary after Brother André… when does it end?

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Choose a metro station that’s named after a street… how about the Laurier metro stop?

      The STM put a moratorium on renaming metro stations after people realized how stupid the name Longueuil-Université-de-Sherbrooke was.

    2. MAWG

      I agree with not renaming streets in Montreal after someone, no matter what their accomplishments. There`s lots of other ways to honor someone.

    3. WJF

      In New York City it is quite common to see a street with two names. One name is typically its proper name- usual numeric- while the other sign is in honor of a figure important to the neighborhood. It seems like a pretty reasonable compromise to me.

  2. Benoit

    As a a 50+ French Canadian who has been residing in Vancouver for the last 20 years I have proudly signed the online petition and will, fingers crossed, get a copy of the brand new Mordecai biography for my birthday this week. My debt to Mordecai is learning not only about the great Jewish tradition and legacy the city has to offer but also of the long history of anti-Semitism of my Catholic ancestors (abbe Lionel-Groulx and Le Devoir, amongst many others).

    1. Omi-san

      Yes, unlike other provinces and the US who never, ever displayed signs of anti-semitism in the first half of the 20th century.

      1. Jean Naimard

        You don’t need to go outside of Québec to see blatant antisemitism. Just go back 50 years here, when Mc-Gill had strict jewish quotas (Sir George Williams university was founded so jews could go to university) and all the clubs (except the Montefiore, of course) barred jews.

        1. Marc

          Hampstead had a no jews allowed policy half a century ago. What are the demographics of it today…? Oh, and WLM King’s infamous quote “NONE IS TOO MANY!”

  3. Marc

    No street renamings, please. Especially not Fairmount.

    Two good suggestions I heard were 1) rename the Mile End library. 2) Add a plaque to his St. Urbain st. dwelling and encourage people to read his books – I think that one came from his son.

    1. David Pinto

      Marc says we should not rename Fairmount.
      Why on earth not? Was there someone named Fairmount? Sounds like an invented name to me — fair + mount.

      1. Jean Naimard

        That there is(was) or not a guy names Fairmount is beyond the question.

        The thing is that the name Fairmount is extremely associated with that neighbourhood, and changing the name would be as bad as closing the bagel joint.

        (mmmm… bagels — H. Simpson)

      2. David Pinto

        My bad, folks.
        In his November 3 column Billl Brownstein says:
        In 1895, Fairmount Ave. was named for the Fairmount Villa, the ancestral home of Montreal merchant Stanley Bagg. But the family already
        has been paid homage with Bagg St. in the area.

  4. wkh

    Parc’s non-renaming was such a fake grass roots movement. It was started by business owners who didn’t want to deal with their advertising and name changes (why WOULD one need to change business names? It can stay as a nod to the previous name) and faked a bunch of people into some BS about history. History my ass. It’s named after a freaking PARK. I’m so disgusted so many otherwise smart people got sucked into that non-issue.

    People who live and have a business on a street are never, ever going to ask for the name to be changed. Ever. Unless it’s named something like “Butt Circle.” It involves change, and people don’t like change.

    1. Kate M.

      wkh, I don’t agree. A lot of folks around Mile End did not want Park renamed. Everyone I know was up in arms about it. It may just mean a park, but the street name now has a long history and people are attached to it – plus there’s Park Extension and Parc Metro and all the other offshoots of the name.

      Besides, nobody was all that keen on Robert Bourassa, either.

  5. ery

    How about Esplanade. It runs right through there and is split into 3 separate non continuous roads. From Van Horne to Fairmount, Fairmount to Mont-Royal and Mont Royal to Duluth. They could rename one part after him, probably Fairmount to Mont-Royal, and name the 3rd part after someone else and still have an Avenue De l’Esplanade.

    1. Kate M.

      No, there is a Park Avenue, because it has been called that for decades. Because it is not written on an official sign it doesn’t mean the denomination doesn’t exist. In ordinary life and discourse one is not limited only to what is officially sanctioned – thank goodness.

  6. Kate M.

    It wouldn’t be much of a tribute to Richler to remove a piece of Mile End history like the name Fairmount, which may not “mean” anything in some sense, but by now has associations for generations of Montrealers. We need to add something, not subtract something. On my blog, Ian Rogers suggested a statue or monument, maybe in Jeanne-Mance Park, and Chris DeWolf pointed out that since we have Jeanne-Mance as a street, the park itself (which used to be Fletcher’s Field anyway) could be renamed for Richler. If other things were equal I’d say that was the best idea but I don’t think the city will go for anything quite that major with the SSJB drumming up resistance to it. And a statue might attract unpleasant reprisals. I’ve seen a suggestion somewhere that a library might be a fitting memorial – but which one?

    1. Jean Naimard

      He already has a monument, it’s on the top of the Mont-Royal cemetery, fittingly right next to Donald “no french canadian is competent enough” Gordon’s.

  7. AlexH

    I suspect there are other streets besides fairmont that could be renamed that would still be important without hurting something that is signficant in this city. Why not rename St Viateur? Did the bagel shop there pay someone off? ;)

  8. W G, Gatineau

    there are several un-named alleys connecting upper outremont with chemin Cote-Ste-Catherine. I think this is the ideal location for a Ruelle Richler.

    Richler loved the people of upper outremont, that’s for sure. (irony alert)

    1. Jim

      Sorry, he was a major Montreal suthor/writer and he deserves more than just an alley named for him. Your suggestion was very generous though. (irony alert)

      1. W G, Gatineau

        I am off the idea of renaming anything, let’s keep the history we have already s.v.p. My suggestion was to name for the first time some un-named mini streets, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a lot more constructive than your total lack of respect for the idea I contributed in this conversation. Maudit troll.

  9. Singlestar

    Don’t we realize that Richler is being honored every day?
    Every day that Mouvement Imperatif Francais hasn’t taken out Winnie’s?

  10. Maria Gatti

    It is always problematic when we are speaking of a gifted writer or other artist, but who has made hateful statements and written hateful screeds against a people. Yes, of course Richler is Québécois, but he never wanted to be identified that way – strong contrast with Leonard Cohen, for example. I don’t think Cohen is actually indépendantiste, but he has a far more positive outlook towards the majority people here (and towards Indigenous people) and was always close to such Québécois (radicals, many of them indépendantistes) such as sculptor Armand Vaillancourt.

    Nobody has suggested renaming a street for Falardeau so far.

    Some of us have wanted to rename métro Lionel-Groulx for Léa Roback for several years now. It seems a lot of her union organizing was carried out in that part of town. And what about the idea of renaming Amherst St? Not because he was a British general, but because he is identified with biological warfare against Indigenous people. I’d support that, but the new name should either be Indigenous or Indigenous-related (such as rue de la Grande-Paix).

  11. ATSc

    Re-naming streets is a big no-no. Very sick and tired of erasing the city’s history because some group thinks that it’s the way to go. Even Fairmount should be left alone.

    Name something new.

    But, how about looking at duplicate street names. Since the merger of several towns into Montreal, we now have some duplication. Example…Decelles in Cote-des-Neiges and Decelles in the old Ville St-Laurent. Two same street names but now one city. Perhaps one of the two should be dropped, and Richler can get a street named after him.

    The other example is Victoria street. The Victoria street in Cote-des-neiges (which I would never suggest be changed) and a very small Victoria street downtown near McGill College.

    I’m sure there are other duplicate named streets within the City of Montreal.

    The other example is the Park Ex area. We have streets that begin in Outremont such as Querbes. They go past the rail tracks into Park Ex. Some of the streets maintain their names such as Querbes. Yet others don’t. Such as Birnam. Should those streets be renamed? Or should we maintain a continuity. You can’t drive or walk from Querbes in Outremont to Park Ex. But you can with Parc Avenue.

    Just a few thoughts.

    One other thing. The city has got to also look at naming stuff after anglophones and allophones. We make up a very large part of this city, and they can’t just ignore us. Naming a street after Richler would be a start.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      There are also Victoria Sts. in Pointe aux Trembles and Lachine.

      You can’t drive or walk from Querbes in Outremont to Park Ex. But you can with Parc Avenue.

      Actually there’s a Park Ave. in Ahuntsic that is unconnected with the Park in Mile End. And Jeanne-Mance is in about eight pieces from one end of the island to the other. But you’re still renaming streets here, and because they’re on one axis there’s no confusion when it comes to street numbering.

      1. Maria Gatti

        There are many streets that stop and start up again – rue Berri ceases to exist between Rosemont and Jean-Talon (St-Vallier is sort of in its axe, but not exactly – doesn’t Rivard stop at Rosemont too?) and de Castelnau stops in its tracks at St-André and starts up again some streets eastward.

        And there is a whole slew of Victoria this and that.

        I’ve seen streets in Longueuil that seem to continue the names of those on the other side of the river, and perhaps this phenom also exists in Pont-Viau Laval?

      2. emdx

        Park Avenue actually goes north of Jean-Talon.

        It starts at Sherbrooke, and goes straight to Jean-Talon.

        Then it shows up again, two streets west of Jeanne-Mance, north of Crémazie and runs as a northbound one-way to Chabanel. And that’s it, as it is “replaced” by Tanguay street (yes, the one with the jail) north of Fleury.

        As of Richler, well, renaming anything for him would be nothing short of a provocation. He already showed how much he despises the french, so why should we honour him?

    2. Jean Naimard

      The other example is Victoria street. The Victoria street in Cote-des-neiges (which I would never suggest be changed) and a very small Victoria street downtown near McGill College.

      Who else remembers when it went all the way down to Ste-Catherine, alongside Chez Eaton?

    3. AlexH

      When I moved into my new place a few years ago, I got a phone call from a very frustrated Bell Canada employee who claimed to be outside my door and the woman answering the door had no idea what he was on about. Well, it turns out that my street exists both in my area as well as Montreal North, with exactly the same numerical address and street name. It is doubly stupid because the street I am on did not exist even 10 years ago.

      There is plenty of duplication in the city, and certainly one of the duplicating names or individual segments could be renamed in honor of the writer. IMHO, the city of Montreal would be doing itself a great favor to use this logic for the next few years, cleaning up misleading duplications and replications in the merged city.

  12. MSI

    Why not keep the Fairmount name and add Richler’s name to a commerative route that tourists can use for a reference when visiting the area. Ottawa’s Preston Street is also known as ‘Corsa d’Italia’ to honour it’s Italian heritage.

    1. Jim

      though adding his name alongside the present street name would be the most practical and appropriate thing to do… as opposed to just along a section of the street…

  13. Jean Naimard

    It’s funny, we cannot criticize the jews because it makes us “antisemites”, but if it’s perfectly okay to dump on the french in Québec; after-all, we’ve been being dumped upon for a quarter of a millenium, so we’re pretty much accustomed to it, and many (those who vote “no” and/or liberal) believe it, too (those tend to work for CN and there are many in the army, too — they have seen first-hand that being french there doesn not help being promoted).
    But enough disgression. So, I’ll go ahead and be an “antisemite”*. After all, y’all need a reason to hate me…
    Mardochée† Richler was mostly dumping on the french because he could not fathom why we would want to force ourselves in poverty, because, clearly, for him, french was the language of poverty and english the language of money. (I will abstain from theorizing why Mardochée would do a psychological projection on us and assume we would like money, that would really make me an “antisemite”).
    I would have proposed to rename Lansdowne avenue in Griffintown (it’s the little stub some 100ft west of the little “A”), but alas, it has disappeared in the construction that happenned during the last few months. (It used to be right between the two trees).
    If the jews really want to honour Québec-basher extraordinaire Mardochée, well, what’s to prevent them from doing so in their little ghetto of Côte-Saint-Luc? I’m sure that it would go totally unremarked by the “rabid antisemite separatists” who certainly do not venture there, and Gilles Rhéaume would likely get lost on Smart avenue trying to get there…
    * Antisemite: someone the jews don’t like.
    † That’s “Mordechai” in french — I love the scatological sound of it.

  14. Christopher DeWolf

    Honestly, I think the same lessons from the Park/Bourassa debacle apply here: place names have history and meaning even if they are fairly generic at face value, like Fairmount, avenue du Parc or whatever. There’s nothing unique about Saint-Denis or Sainte-Catherine or most other streets named after Catholic saints but they’ve become such a part of Montreal’s identity that it would be unthinkable to rename them.

    I’d suggest the same thing I proposed four years ago during the attempt to rename Park Ave.: name something new after Mordecai Richler. Why not, god forbid, build a new plaza? Or a new library?

    I still think that the new intersection at Park and Pine should have been named Place Robert-Bourassa. It would have saved everyone a lot of grief.

    1. Ed Hawco

      Despite my comment below about naming the three-block eastern stretch of Fairmount after Richler (as this wouldn’t mess with the history of the street), I like the idea of naming a small park, or a plaza or some other public space in that area after him.

      For example, that park-like area on the north side of Laurier, east of St-Dominique. Does that even have a name?

      Or better yet, what about the park on St-Laurent in front of St-Enfant Jesus church? (Between Laurier and St-Joseph.) Does that even have a name? What a perfect location for Parc Mordecai-Richler!

      1. Kate M.

        The park on Laurier is called Saint-Michel park. It’s a little off the path for Mile End but it does seem to be a name that has no particular local connections: it isn’t in Saint-Michel and isn’t particularly connected to St. Michael’s Church either.

        The park on the Main in front of the church is Parc Lahaie: the city toponymy server says “Cette dénomination rappelle le révérend père Taraise-Thomas Lahaie (1815-1861), originaire de Dijon, curé-fondateur de la paroisse Saint-Enfant-Jésus.”

        1. Justin

          The slice of Mile End between Laurier and Bernard constituted District Saint-Michel (St. Michael’s Ward) during much of the 20th century. The ward may well have been named for Saint-Michel Archange church, built 1915 at Bernard and Saint-Urbain, replacing an earlier building at the corner of Boucher and Drolet.

          The park at Saint-Dominique and Laurier was named for the ward in 1929. The former public swimming pool at Saint-Dominique and Maguire, originally Bain Turcot (1910), was renamed Bain Saint-Michel, also for the ward, in 1941. The pool, now drained and used as theatre space, still bears the same name.

  15. Ed Hawco

    If you look at a map, you see that the stretch of Fairmount that runs east of St. Laurent for three blocks is practically a separate street already. There’s a zig-zag there, which separates the east and west sides.

    The city could name that three block eastern stretch after Richler, and it wouldn’t mess with any of the history of Fairmount, including the name of the garderie and the bagel shop.


  16. Tim

    A drink?

    (attempts to visualize)
    Barkeep! A Richler, please. (waits) (receives, sips) (face instantly clenches) Good God, that’s bitter!

  17. David Pinto

    There is a wider debate, though, thzt ought to be explored. What exactly are we achieving by naming, or re-naming, as the case may be, a street, square, buliding, or whatever after someone?
    What does it really mean in practical terms to do so?
    Do all of the thousands of people who use or cross Van Horne, as an example, ever stop and say to themselves: Wow, I am now on a street named for Sir Cornelius Van Horne, who was instrumental in building the Canadian Pacific Railway and, by extension, instrumental in the very formation of Canada?
    Of course not.
    There are other issues, too.
    Do any of the thousands of tourists who go to the bars on Crescent Street and notice the lane named after Nick Auf der Maur actually know who he was?
    And there is the future, too.
    Willl anyone in 2110 know who Mordecai Richler was?

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Do all of the thousands of people who use or cross Van Horne, as an example, ever stop and say to themselves: Wow, I am now on a street named for Sir Cornelius Van Horne, who was instrumental in building the Canadian Pacific Railway and, by extension, instrumental in the very formation of Canada?

      No. But if I see the name “Van Horne” in a history textbook or a newspaper archive, I recognize it because of the street named after him. That recognition leads to the acknowledgment that Van Horne was an important figure in Montreal’s history.

    2. Jean Naimard

      Do all of the thousands of people who use or cross Van Horne, as an example, ever stop and say to themselves: Wow, I am now on a street named for Sir Cornelius Van Horne, who was instrumental in building the Canadian Pacific Railway and, by extension, instrumental in the very formation of Canada?

      Sure. You do, and I do. I think of the genius american manager who managed to build a transcontinental railroad, a task that was too daunting for the incompetent family compact who had badly floundered at the job, a job that even the mighty Grand Trunk would not touch with a two thousand miles pole.
      I think of the genius painter who would give lavish parties in his sumptuous Sherbrooke street mansion (that since fell prey to the azriellization of the city) and during the course of which, he would briefly step aside in his own studio, and hurriedly pastiche a master, then add the new still-wet painting in his gallery, then ask his visitors to spot the fake…
      I think of the genius railroad builder, who, as a hobby, and without any assistance from lawmakers, managed to build a whole railroad accross Cuba, and whose (cuban) cigar maker asked him to rename the brand of his cigars “Van-Horne”, and who, when the doctor told him “no more than one cigar a day” asked his cigar maker to make cigars two inches in diameter and fourteen inches long…
      Van Horne was one of those very few tremenduous men that dot History with superhuman accomplishments, such as building a railroad through the wastelands of Western Canada. (As it happens, the section north of Lake Superior was far more difficult to build than the section through the rockies).

  18. SMD

    I propose renaming Groll Lane after Richler. It is a lovely (and well-loved) pedestrian alley that connects the four major Mile-End streets (Jeanne-Mance, Esplanade, Waverly and Saint-Urbain), and it abuts on Saint-Urbain right around where he lived (5257 Saint-Urbain), so he must have strolled down it frequently. Mr Groll was a butcher at the turn of the last century, and while generations of neighbourhood kids have enjoyed playing in his laneway I’ve never heard anybody express much concern about him personally. Why not Rue Richler / Richler Lane?

  19. William Raillant-Clark

    We have a brand new (for all intents and purposes) cultural neighbourhood opening up at the end of St-Urbain Street, and with it, brand new spaces. Instead of calling it Esplanade Clark, why not Esplanade Littéraire Mordecai Richler ?

  20. Benjamin

    ”But if we can fawn over Pierre Falardeau despite all the crazy shit he’s said, certainly we can do the same for Richler.”

    Falardeau was only saying the truth, plain and simple, nothing crazy at all…

    Vive le Québec libre.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *