A few years ago, there was a push to rename Lionel-Groulx Metro after late Montreal jazz legend Oscar Peterson. Now that movement is back, currently in the form of a petition.
Of course it has returned now. With statues to racists and colonialists toppling all around the world, and in particular in the US, people are re-evaluating not only who needs to go, but who needs to be honoured instead.
Oscar Peterson was an eight-time Grammy winner praised by Duke Ellington as the “Maharaja of the keyboard” despite the keys only being his second instrument with a career that lasted over 60 years. He also grew up and honed his talents in Little Burgundy, one of the two communities directly served by the metro station.
As for the current namesake, Lionel Groulx, he was a vocal member of a far-right Quebec nationalist group from 1929-1939. Some, most notably Esther Deslile and Mordecai Richler, argue that the group, Groulx included, were borderline fascist and quite anti-Semetic.
Groulx also opposed Jewish immigration to Quebec in the time leading up to World War II and wanted people to boycott Jewish-owned Montreal businesses.
Was Groulx a slave-owner, murderous colonialist like Amherst, or avowed Nazi? No. Was he a virulent anti-Semite? Sure seems like it. Is he, at best, a problematic figure? Yes. Does he have anything to do with Little Burgundy or Montreal’s Sud-Ouest? Absolutely not.
So why name one of the most used metro stops in the city after him? There’s a small avenue bearing his name that intersects with Atwater Avenue right in front of the metro and the STM likes to name their stations after streets or places.
So, a quick fix would be for the city to rename Avenue Lionel Groulx in Little Burgundy Avenue Oscar Peterson and then the STM would have no excuse not to follow. Or, they could simply name the green area surrounding the metro Place Oscar Peterson, as with the area surrounding Place-St-Henri Metro.
Renaming a metro station won’t be erasing Lionel Groulx. There’s also a CEGEP named after him and a street in Saint-Leonard.
But isn’t Oscar Peterson already honoured? Yes, Concordia’s concert hall on the Loyola Campus bears his name, as it should, but that’s at the western end of NDG, two metro stops and a bus ride from the community he grew up in.
Shouldn’t our metro stations and other landmarks honour our local communities and, in particular, our racialzied communities? Why does some white Quebec nationalist theorist with problematic views get a Montreal Metro station in between Little Burgundy and St-Henri named after him when there is clearly a better, more locally representative and internationally renown option?
It’s not just about removing, it’s about respecting and reflecting our communities. We need Metro Oscar-Peterson. If you agree, sign the petition.
Featured image of Peterson in 1977 by Tom Marcello via WikiMedia Commons