Park Avenue is doomed. With an arrogance better suited to Pyongyang than to Montreal, Mayor Gerald Tremblay's administration has decided to abolish a name known to and beloved by generations of Montrealers, in order to re-name the street for Robert Bourassa.
City council must still approve this bit of historical vandalism, but that body is little more than a rubber stamp, so the damage seems to be done, even if many Montrealers now speak up forcefully against this abrupt change of a revered name.
The 80 bus will now run along Robert Bourassa Ave. We'll watch art films at the Cinema du Bourassa. Perhaps Park Ex will be renamed Bob Ex. Elsewhere on this page our cartoonist Aislin suggests another change. Tourist drivers will confuse Robert Bourassa with Henri Bourassa. A colourful district with a distinct character becomes a little more generic. Many Montrealers with Greek or Jewish roots are in this small measure alienated from their background. Hundreds of merchants will have to redo their business forms.
It's fine to commemorate Bourassa, Quebec's premier from 1970 to 1976, and again from 1985 to 1994. (Given the man's fully developed attachment to procrastination in politics, the newly named street might have only red and yellow lights, someone suggested yesterday.) And there is a certain perverse charm to the idea that Robert Bourassa Ave. will now cross Rene Levesque Blvd. (since Bleury St., too, will vanish in this change).
But is it really essential that Montreal abandon a street name rich in historical lore and charm in order to honour someone who was premier of Quebec, not mayor of Montreal? Perhaps the Grande Allee in Quebec City would be more suitable.
The Bourassa family is said to have been eager to see his name on some or all of St. Joseph Blvd., in the neighbourhood where young Robert grew up. But we ask why we must re-name anything. New public buildings go up with reasonable frequency in Montreal. Some existing squares doubtless need naming. How about a nice stretch of autoroute?
There's a broader issue here, too. A city is the sum of its history and is built not by politicians but by the people who elect them. If plumbers, say, controlled street names, there might be lots of streets named after plumbers. But since politicians have this power, we are burdened with bridges, streets and buildings named after long-forgotten baby-kissers. There's an unpleasantly egotistical overtone to this. Did our Dear Leader wipe Park Ave. off the map in furtive haste in fond anticipation of a Gerald Tremblay Blvd. someday?
The mayor and his accomplices in yesterday's heist of heritage plainly need to be reminded that they do not own the city; they merely operate it for its people. What gave the executive committee the idea that it would be acceptable to make such a drastic move with zero public consultation? If La Presse's report is correct, Tremblay and his people have been thinking about this idea for some time, but have carefully kept the idea secret. What could justify that?
There's only one thing to do if city council shows no backbone: ignore the change, and keep speaking of Park Ave. Eventually this administration, or the next one, will reverse this appalling decision. Save Park Avenue!