There's a grassroots movement afoot to rename one of Montreal's metro stations after Oscar Peterson -- it's gone from a 5,500-strong Facebook group to a serious national campaign. While I sympathize with those who oppose renaming local landmarks on principle, it's actually pretty fucking shameful that a metro stop was named after Abbé Lionel Groulx in the first place -- dude was a stone cold fascist who wrote books with titles like L'Appel de la race and did his level best to keep Jews fleeing the Holocaust out of Canada. He personifies all of the ugliest racist and antisemitic elements of pur laine Québec nationalism.
I am actually extremely sympathetic to the desire of francophone Québecois to protect their language and culture -- and if you don't believe Québec is a a distinct society, you've never heard two blue-collar francophones get into a public shouting match about the relative merits of various raw-milk cheeses. But regardless of what side of the sovereignty debate you fall on, there's just no denying that Groulx is an entirely reprehensible figure, and when the station was named after him (in 1978 -- it's not like we are talking about the distant past here), it was an affront to Montreal's Jewish and minority communities.
Oscar Peterson grew up in the neighborhood served by the stop (St-Henri), which is home to the Union United Church, the oldest black congregation in Québec. As Michael Citrome, who created the Facebook page says, "There's something sick about the fact that in one of the oldest historically black neighbourhoods in Canada, there's a subway station named after a terrible racist."
The Transit Commission opposes the change, as does the Gazette (Montreal's English newspaper), but their arguments are pretty feeble. The Gazette editorial objects that "the métro station is not named after him; it's named after the street" -- actually, the street was renamed Lionel-Groulx when the station opened. So fine, let's also rename Avenue Lionel-Groulx after Oscar Peterson while we're are at it.
Historian Jarrett Rudy is quoted in the Globe & Mail piece, saying: "Yes, there is a disagreeable underside to the man – the anti-Semitism, the fascist sympathies." (Okay, please stop right there. We all know a "but" is coming, and it won't be pretty.) "But he also had a significance for a huge part of the population. I feel uncomfortable about erasing his impact from Quebec history."
No one thinks we should only name streets and landmarks after perfect people, but you know, I feel pretty comfortable at drawing the line at actual unapologetic fascists. I mean, it's not like we go around naming public spaces after the father of the KKK, right?
Oh, okay... bad example.