The county of Amherst in the Laurentians is holding a referendum to change its name to something a little more palatable. Apparently, this General Jeffrey Amherst character from whom it took its current name wasn’t exactly a beacon of goodwill and civility. In fact, his tactic of handing out smallpox-contaminated blankets to Aboriginals—killing thousands as a result—is thought to have been among the first uses of biological warfare. (Meantime, some well-meaning Montrealers are trying to get Amherst street in the city’s gay village renamed to “Rue Domagaia” for the same reason.)
Residents have until September 30 to make their voices heard on the subject. Not surprisingly, some already have. Residents of one of the county’s villages, Saint-Rémi-d’Amherst, are opposed to the name change because of its historic link to the town’s mining-related deaths of the 1940’s.
Renaming things has a curious way of igniting passions in Quebec, and not just when it involves genocidal British generals. Consider how little was made in Ontario of the rather lame “Highway of Heroes” designation that was applied to a stretch of the 401 last year. Now compare that to the collective panty-wetting over the following efforts:
- Renaming Dorchester Blvd. to honour René Levesque
- Renaming Parc Ave. to honour Robert Bourassa
- Renaming Dorval airport to honour Pierre Trudeau
- Renaming Lionel-Groulx to honour Oscar Peterson
Though I’ve never felt strongly about this kind of stuff, I humbly suggest that, while we’re on this historical kick, perhaps we can do something about that unfortunate Duplessis monument in Quebec City.