Mordecai Richler's widow doubts Montreal will ever honour her husband

The widow of one of Canada's most celebrated authors says she has doubts about whether Montreal will ever honour her late husband.

'I even, tongue-in-cheek, offered to buy the paint,' says Florence Richler of dilapidated gazebo

Author Mordecai Richler poses in a Montreal park in this Oct., 1983 file photo. He died in 2001. (Ryan Remiorz/CP)

The widow of one of Canada's most celebrated authors says she has doubts about whether Montreal will ever honour her late husband.

The gazebo on Mount Royal sits in disrepair, Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015 in Montreal. The gazebo is supposed to be renamed to commemorate author Mordecai Richler but the project has been stalled for four years. (Ryan Remiorz/CP)

Florence Richler remains hopeful but is "dubious" the city will begin repairs to a 1920s gazebo that was supposed to be named after Mordecai Richler, who died in 2001.

Calling Richler "one of the greatest novelists in Canada and around the world," the City of Montreal announced in 2011 it planned to revamp the shanty bandstand on the eastern flank of Mount Royal and rename it the "Mordecai Richler Gazebo."

The city was supposed to renovate the already-dilapidated gazebo and turn the area around it into a speaker's corner by 2012.

Richler, who was born in Montreal in 1931, was known internationally for his literary talent and penned classics such as The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz and Barney's Version, which were both set in Montreal and made into feature films.

Work on the gazebo has been delayed several times since the project was announced and, despite meeting with the mayor's office last week, Florence Richler said the city couldn't even offer a timeline for when repairs would begin.

"Oh you know very well (Montreal is) very good at procrastinating," she told The Canadian Press in a phone interview from Toronto. "I even, tongue-in-cheek, offered to buy the paint."

She said the city gave "the usual excuses" for the delays.

"I think more sophisticated people would call it incompetence," she added.

City says it'll do something soon

Catherine Maurice, a spokeswoman for Mayor Denis Coderre, said work should begin on repairs to the gazebo in the spring — but she couldn't give a date.

She said a company was approved by city council last October to carry out the work and that the most recent delays were due to bureaucratic wrangling.

"The mayor wanted to make clear that he also hoped to honour Richler in other ways than just the gazebo," she said, adding Coderre would like to outline his other ideas for celebrating the author in the next few months.

Richler left Montreal in the '50s for Europe but returned 20 years later. His city of birth —as well as prominent streets and neighbourhoods — often figured as settings for his writing.

I think more sophisticated people would call it incompetence.- Florence Richler

While Richler remains feted around the world, in some quarters of Quebec his sour critiques of the province's nationalist movement earned him scorn.

Florence said her late husband was critical of "everyone and everything — nothing to do with Quebec specifically."

"I'm sure that if he had been, oh, an arch-nationalist and supporter of every level of government, something might have been done (to honour him) a lot sooner — perhaps in his lifetime," she said.

'It's a political hot potato'

Florence Richler, widow of author Mordecai Richler, with her son, Jacob, at the inauguration of the Mordecai Richler reading room at Concordia University, Thursday, Nov. 28, 2013 in Montreal. (Ryan Remiorz/CP)

Jack Rabinovitch, who was a good friend of Mordecai Richler and who founded the Giller Prize, said it is "terrible" the city has yet to honour the literary giant.

"The fact remains that (Richler) was one of the best writers that Montreal has ever produced," he said. "He knew about what went on in Montreal in the '40s and '50s and wrote about it honestly."

Rabinovitch argues Richler deserves a street name, not a bandstand on Mount Royal.

Sharon Wilensky, the co-owner of a landmark Montreal deli that features in a couple of Richler novels under a different name, also believes a gazebo is insufficient.

"The gazebo doesn't really represent anything about him," said Wilensky, who has a share in Wilensky's Light Lunch. "But (if the city) is not going to do anything, then at least they can do that."

She believes Montreal has not yet paid tribute to one of its most celebrated authors because "it's a political hot potato."

"I wouldn't say he was misunderstood, but people have mixed feelings about him, so I think there is a worry about a negative reaction to him being honoured," Wilensky said.