Last week the Mayor of Montreal dropped a bombshell of an announcement via Twitter when she announced her preferred name for the new REM (Light Rail) station in Griffintown is Griffintown-Bernard-Landry after the late former Quebec premier who is without question deserving of such an honour in Quebec’s metropolis. Personally speaking, however, I don’t believe this REM station is the appropriate public space.
Irish immigrants and Irish Canadians played a major role in the development of this neighbourhood from its humble beginnings in the 1820s through to its destruction in the 1960s, populated mainly by Irish immigrant labourers who worked on the Lachine Canal and in the surrounding industries, on the Victoria Bridge, on the railways, and at the Port of Montreal among many places.
The new REM station will be in close proximity to the future park planned by the Montreal Irish Monument Park Foundation which will honour in a fitting manner the more than 6 000 people mainly of Irish descent who are buried in several locations in the area as well as the many brave people who tended to the typhus victims housed in the fever sheds, including Mayor John Easton Mills.
It is for these reasons I firmly believe it is fitting to recognize the Irish community alone in the naming of this REM station. Here are a few possibilities that I hope will be considered. Of course the list of possibilities is not exhaustive but thought I would share a few that I find interesting:
- Gare Griffintown-John-Easton-Mills (or Gare John-Easton-Mills)
On June 17, 1998 the City of Montreal graciously named a street after Montreal’s martyr mayor, John Easton Mills (rue John-Easton-Mills), in the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve neighbourhood far away from the very area where he tended to the sick and where he contracted the dreaded and deadly typhus that cost him his life. While I have no doubt the City’s intentions at the time were genuine, in reality this gesture unintentionally sent the message that Easton Mills and his legacy as Montreal’s Martyr Mayor are unimportant. Naming this REM station in his honour would correct this unintentional error, bringing his name closer to the very area where he contracted the disease that killed him.
- Gare Griffintown-des-irlandais (or Gare des irlandais)
In a neighbourhood that once housed a vibrant community mainly of Irish immigrants and their descendants at a time where this history is literally being overshadowed (or forgotten) due to the mass development of Griffintown every effort must be taken to preserve that history. There is no need for me to go into much detail about this suggestion other than to say this would also be an acceptable name to the community at large.
- Gare Griffintown-le-monument-commémoratif-irlandais (or Gare le-monument-commémoratif-irlandais)
This suggestion is a little bit of a mouthful, granted. However, like my other suggestions, such a name would possibly give pause to the thousands of commuters passing through the station to ask about the Stone of Bridge Street as well as its significance to this historically Irish neighbourhood.
These are but three examples of appropriate and acceptable names of the new REM station that would preserve completely the Irish nature of the neighbourhood. There are many other public spaces in the City of Montreal that could be considered to honour the later former premier. The new Griffintown REM station is not one of them.
We have learned that the Mayor does not have the authority to name REM stations but that the REM itself does. I don’t know what the selection process is or will be but rest assured the many Irish organizations in the City will keep their members informed.
Ken Quinn, Historian
United Irish Societies of Montreal