Montreal

Montrealers call for Lionel-Groulx Metro station to be renamed after Oscar Peterson

A new petition seeks to have the station renamed. Montreal's transit authority says there has been a moratorium on renaming stations for 14 years.

Supporters say honouring jazz great would better celebrate city's diverse history

Naveed Hussain started the petition earlier this week, in hopes it would inspire the city to recognize the positive contributions people of colour have made throughout the years. (Matt D'Amours/CBC)

A petition calling for Montreal's Lionel-Groulx Metro station to be renamed after famed jazz pianist Oscar Peterson is gaining momentum. 

Naveed Hussain, a resident of the Sud-Ouest borough, started the online petition in hopes it would get the city one step closer to recognizing the contributions that Black and Indigenous peoples, as well as people of colour, have made to the city. 

"Oscar Peterson is someone that actually cared about this city," Hussain said in an interview Friday. 

Peterson was born and raised in the Montreal neighborhood of Little Burgundy, steps away from where Lionel-Groulx Metro station is now located. An eight-time Grammy award winner, he helped put Montreal on the map in the international jazz scene. 

Hussain felt it especially important to start the petition as the city undergoes a reckoning on the issues of systemic racism and police brutality. 

"I believe the City of Montreal, especially city hall, has a duty to its citizens to celebrate diverse origins and people of colour," said Hussain. 

The petition, posted Wednesday, had 3,070 signatures by Saturday afternoon. 

Daisy Peterson Sweeney (left) taught her brother, Oscar Peterson, how to play the piano in Montreal’s Little Burgundy neighbourhood decades ago. (Library and Archives Canada)

"It gives me hope. I just love how we as Montrealers come together, how we unite," he said. 

In a statement to CBC News, the STM said Hussain can submit his petition to the transit authority but that there's been a moratorium on station name changes for the past 14 years.

Groulx has been a divisive figure in Quebec history. A roman catholic priest, teacher and historian, he is known as one of the first figures to bring Quebec nationalist discourse to the forefront. 

But, as Robert Green, a history teacher at Westmount High School, points out, that is not the only thing he is remembered for. 

"In addition to being someone who articulated the vision of Quebec's national consciousness, he was also someone who had some very virulent anti-Semitic views," Green said. 

"And I'm not talking about someone who just passively held anti-Semitic opinions. He was an active hate monger against the Jewish community." 

More specifically, Groulx spoke actively against the immigration of Jewish people into Quebec. 

He also vocally supported a boycott of all businesses run by Jewish Montrealers. 

"Just imagine being a Jewish Montrealer who had family members that died in the Holocaust and seeing that name over our Metro station as something to celebrate," Green said. 

"I know there are some voices in Quebec that will say this is Quebec bashing, but it's not about Quebec bashing at all." 

Green said it is important not to erase history, and important that students across the province continue to learn about Groulx in their history books. But, he said, having his name on a Metro station is an entirely different story. 

"Why I signed the petition is it's taking someone whose historic legacy very much divides Quebecers and replacing that with someone whose historic legacy, I think, really unites Quebecers," he said. 

Green said it's time for everyone to look back at some of the negative impacts some of the country's historical figures have had on visible minority groups. 

A similar petition called for the removal of a statue of James McGill on the university's downtown campus earlier this month, because McGill owned Black and Indigenous slaves. 

This also isn't the first time people have called for the station to be renamed in Peterson's honour. In 2008, shortly after Peterson's death, a group of Montrealers went to city hall with the same request. 

With files from Matt D'Amours

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