REM station in Griffintown – It is curious how the official communiqué issued by REM and the City of Montreal presented the naming of the future station located near the Peel Basin. The naming of that station had been left in suspense after the mayor’s proposal of adding “Bernard Landry” to that of Griffintown was met with strong opposition especially from the Irish community. The PR people at REM must have thought that by burying the new name at the end of the press release—after describing the future building—they would diffuse the controversy. Thus, the station name just came as number four on the list of the “five elements” to highlight regarding the future installation. “In addition to respecting the principle of geolocation in the toponymy of the Griffintown station, the City of Montreal wished to salute the contribution of former Premier Bernard Landry to the development of the multimedia city that will be served by this station,” reads the document dated June 22.
For its part, the United Irish Societies issued its own press release expressing dismay over the announcement. After reiterating the strong association of the Irish community to the area underlining “its origins in Griffintown and St. Ann’s Church,” the document describes the UIS efforts to dissuade Mayor Valerie Plante from adding the former premier’s name to the future station. “In January, the Irish community met with Valerie Plante to express their displeasure with her recommendation of naming the future REM station to honour the late Premier Bernard Landry. Today (June 22, 2020) the Irish community met once again with the Mayor of Montreal to hear that the name of the REM Station that borders Griffintown to now be named “GriffinTown – Bernard Landry”. This decision was not taken well and was opposed by all Irish communities with great displeasure and was voiced during this call with Mme Plante.” At the time of writing this piece, there was no official response on the part of Mayor Plante, and it is likely that for her this is now a fait accompli on which she won’t back down.
The United Irish Societies, however, is also determined to continue the fight, the press release signed by its president Patricia Mulqueen ends in a resolved tone: “We wanted all of our membership to understand our stance on the matter, and we will continue to oppose this decision until the Griffintown station and area are given the recognition it deserves without sharing it with a past Premier of Quebec.”
The Irish are not the only ones upset with the decision to honour Landry: the Latino community also have many reservations about it. On October 30, 1995, sovereignty referendum night, the then deputy-premier arrived at the Inter-Continental Hotel, where he was staying. According to a complaint with the Quebec Human Rights Commission, he verbally abused night-clerk Anita Martinez, who happened to be Mexican. “It was because of you immigrants that the No won,” he said to her and another woman working at that time.
Bernard Landry, who died in 2018, was premier for only two years: from 2001—when he succeeded Lucien Bouchard who had resigned—to 2003, when he lost to the Liberals, then led by Jean Charest. Although he had a long career as a member of the Parti Québécois, he was not one of its most remarkable or historic figures, like René Levesque or Jacques Parizeau. All of which makes even more puzzling Mayor Plante’s obsession with perpetuating his memory by naming a station after him. And that, at the cost of hurting the feelings of a community with important roots in the city’s history.
Mayor Plante may not be easy to dissuade, her record regarding relations with linguistic and ethnic minorities in the city is far from satisfactory. She seems to have abandoned all her pretenses as a progressive leader embracing instead narrow nationalistic views. While perhaps one cannot expect a willing change on her part, exerting lots of pressure may change the course of events sometimes.