Confederate plaque on Montreal Hudson's Bay store removed

Plaque placed on the store in 1957 by U.S.-based United Daughters of the Confederacy

Posted: August 15, 2017
Last Updated: August 16, 2017

Andrew Papenheim first noticed the plaque commemorating Jefferson Davis online and was shocked. The plaque outside the Hudson's Bay Company flagship store in downtown Montreal has been removed due to complaints. (Sarah Leavitt/CBC)

The Hudson's Bay Company has removed a plaque from the company's flagship store in downtown Montreal that commemorates Jefferson Davis, who was president of the Confederate States during the American Civil War.

"We are working this evening to have the plaque removed," wrote Tiffany Bourré, a spokesperson for HBC, in an email to CBC News Tuesday afternoon. 

Calls to have the plaque removed emerged after a 32-year-old woman was killed in a deadly car attack on anti-racism protesters who were demonstrating against a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., on Saturday. The man charged in the attack idolized Nazis, according to a former teacher.


The aftermath of the Charlottesville clashes has prompted many to look closer at Confederate monuments in their own neighbourhoods.

The Montreal plaque hung on a wall of the HBC store on Union Avenue. Written in French, it read: "To the memory of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States, who lived in 1867 in the home of John Lovell, which was once here."

It went on to say it was first placed there in 1957 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, a non-profit women's group dedicated to glorifying a revisionist perspective of Confederate history.

Andrew Papenheim first saw the plaque posted online. He walks down Union Avenue almost daily, and he said that once he knew the plaque was there, it increasingly irked him to see it. 

"I'm not sure why we would go out of our way to commemorate this dark and horrible thing. Jefferson Davis was not an honourable man, he committed treason in defence of chattel slavery."


'An offence to me'

Papenheim said he got tired of being upset and decided to find out why the plaque was still on display.

"I wanted to figure out how it was being funded. It was really important to me that we were not spending public funds commemorating this disgusting thing," he said.

By Tuesday evening, the plaque commemorating Jefferson Davis had been removed. (Sarah Leavitt/CBC)

He got in touch with The Bay's heritage department in May to ask for more information, and he was not alone in his calls to have the plaque removed.

Mark Warner also repeatedly made requests to Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre via Twitter to do something.

"A plaque that's donated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, without any context, to the honour of the president of the Confederacy who defended slavery is an offence to me as a black Canadian," Warner told CBC News.


He said his tweets to Coderre went unanswered.

Gabrielle Fontaine-Giroux, a spokesperson for the City of Montreal, wrote in an earlier email to CBC Montreal on Tuesday, before news that the plaque had been removed broke, that it is a "private plaque on a private building. It's up to the owner of the building to evaluate it."

Papenheim said Tuesday evening that he's pleased the company took "action so swiftly" and removed the tribute to a man remembered almost solely for trying to destroy the American republic so that southern plantation owners and industrialists could continue to profit from human enslavement. 

"I think it's a wonderful move. I think it's a great start for the city. I think it's a positive thing for the city," he said. 

Why a plaque for Davis in Montreal?

Davis was president of the Confederate States from 1861 to 1865, when the Confederacy was defeated by the Union army under Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in May of that year. A few weeks after the Confederates surrendered, Davis was arrested, charged with treason and put in jail.

After he was released on bail, Davis spent some time in Montreal. 


In a letter to his brother written in 1867, Davis wrote that he was staying with John Lovell, a prominent Montrealer who owned a printing company.

The Lovell Litho & Publications Inc.'s company website makes note of the fact.

"In 1867 John Lovell gave refuge in his home, where the Hudson's Bay Company at [Phillips Square] presently stands, to Jefferson Davis, exiled President of the Confederated Southern States, at the end of the Civil War," says the website.

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Plaque commemorating Confederate President Jefferson Davis placed on the store in 1957 by U.S.-based United Daughters of the Confederacy  1:49

The plaque, once attached to The Bay's wall along Union Avenue, is 'to the memory of Jefferson Davis,' and commissioned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. (Sarah Leavitt/CBC)


Sarah Leavitt

Sarah Leavitt is a multimedia journalist with CBC who loves hearing people's stories. Tell her yours: or on Twitter @SarahLeavittCBC.