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New Montreal community centre needs a name


Montreal community centre – Downtowners will get a community centre. Actually, the new facility is still under construction. It would probably open sometime in 2022 as part of the new condo and office complex being built in the site of the former Children’s Hospital, across Cabot Square.

Montreal community centre is looking for a name

The Peter McGill Community Council, representing residents and institutions located in that ward of the Ville Marie Borough, is busy these days planning for the future of the community centre, beginning by giving it a name.

Montreal community centre
The western ward of the Ville Marie borough is named after Peter McGill, Montreal’s second mayor. Some would like his name for the new community centre too, but the borough wants a woman’s name

“Starting August 26, the Peter-McGill Community Council’s team and board members will study every proposal and select five of them to submit to the borough,” reads a communiqué issued by the organization. The future community centre has been described as a “mixed integrated project” which will include a library, a Maison de la culture (with performance, screening, and exhibition halls), social spaces (coffee shop, agora, multipurpose rooms, cooking laboratory, office space for local organizations, etc.), and creative studios.

The process of naming the facility started with the submission of proposals (up to the end of August).  Then following on September 6: Study of the recommendations by the Peter-McGill Community Council’s team and board members to select the five names to submit to the borough. The week of September 9: Meeting with the Ville-Marie borough and the Division du patrimoine to review all the proposals and compile a shortlist to submit to the authorities. Mid-September:  Presentation of proposals to the Comité de toponymie of the Ville de Montréal. Early October:  Presentation of proposals to the elected officials of Ville-Marie.

Simonne Monet-Chartrand, a feminist and union leader, is also one of the names suggested

Although in principle the call to submit names is wide-ranging, some criteria may put limitations to the proposals. According to the Peter McGill Community Council: “in conjunction with the city’s Toponym’Elles campaign, the (borough) administration has expressed the desire that if the centre is named after an individual, that person should ideally and preferentially be a woman.” The mission of the centre also contains some directives as to what should it pursue once it is in operation. Described as an oasis that “puts people first” it should be “a meeting place where caravans converge” (bringing) “friendship, knowledge, creativity, solidarity, and discovery.”  As a project, the centre will have some specific themes associated with its scope: “World music (universal language, a bridge between cultures), Digital technology (digital culture fosters social ties, creativity), Indigenousness (highlights aboriginal cultures), and Community-led.”

Feminist and social organizer Thérèse Casgrain is one of the names suggested to name the new community centre

According to the report from the Peter McGill Community Centre, so far the most frequently suggested names are: an Aboriginal activist woman (no specific name suggested), Peter-McGill, Thérèse Casgrain, and Simonne Monet-Chartrand. Since we don’t know yet how many people have participated in the online consultation, it is hard to anticipate any definitive tendency. Honouring an indigenous activist woman seems fine, but without significant numbers of aboriginals in the area, such suggestion may be dismissed as tokenism. Even worse, indigenous people may denounce it as “cultural appropriation” (a non-indigenous institution using an aboriginal name invites controversy). Peter McGill seems an easy option since that’s the name of the ward in which the future centre is located, but it would contradict the desire of the Comité du toponymie bureaucrats, so it is an unlikely choice. Thérèse Casgrain (1896-1981) was a feminist who campaigned for the right to vote, but the fact that she was an active socialist (leader of the Quebec CCF, later the NDP) may enrage some right-wing people at city hall, although a park between Cedar Ave. and Ave. des Pins already bears her name. Simonne Monet-Chartrand (1919-1993) was also a feminist and a union activist, but she has already been honoured by the city and other organizations: a park is named after her in the east end, so does a CLSC in the south shore and a women’s shelter.

Norma Shearer
As a resident in the Peter McGill ward, this journalist suggests the name of Oscar-winner Montrealer, Norma Shearer

Being a resident in the ward as well, the author of this article submitted his own proposal which would honour a woman in the arts field: Norma Shearer (1902-1983) a Montreal actress who is now mostly forgotten, although she won an Oscar in 1930 and was regarded as one of the grand ladies of the screen in the 1920s and 1930s.

Only in October downtowners will know what name is chosen for the future community centre, hoping it reflects the demographic makeup of the neighbourhood and it is not adopted by trendy political motives.

Feature image: This is what the future complex in the former Children’s Hospital will look like: the community centre will be located there

By: Sergio Martinez – info@mtltimes.ca

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