Montreal's Outremont borough moves to rename Vimy Park after Jacques Parizeau

A move by the Montreal borough of Outremont to change the name of one of its neighbourhood parks from Vimy Park to Jacques-Parizeau Park is stirring controversy.

Decision to rename park after former premier Jacques Parizeau ‘disappointing, misguided,’ historian says

Outremont wants to rename Vimy Park after former Quebec premier Jacques Parizeau. (Google Maps)

A move by the Montreal borough of Outremont to change the name of one of its neighbourhood parks from Vimy Park to Jacques-Parizeau Park is stirring controversy.

The borough received permission from the City of Montreal's executive committee Wednesday to change the park's name to honour former Quebec premier Jacques Parizeau, who died last year.

Parizeau had lived for years on a street adjoining the small park.

Montreal's municipal council is expected to vote on the name change at its meeting on June 20.

But Jeremy Diamond is among those saying the name Vimy should stay.

"I think it's disappointing and I think it is misguided," said Diamond, executive director of The Vimy Foundation, a Canadian charity group that promotes the legacy of the First World War.

"It's another example of what I think we risk doing in this country is forgetting about our history."

Vimy Ridge was a battle during the First World War on a strategic 14-kilometre-long escarpment overlooking France's Douai plains. 

German troops occupied the ridge, and 150,000 French and British soldiers died trying to take it back before the famed battle.

'Political jab'

Desmond Morton, a professor of military history at McGill University, called the move to rename Vimy Park after Parizeau, who nearly led Quebec to sovereignty in 1995, a "political jab trying to stir up the English community."

He said Parti Québécois efforts to remove the teaching of Canadian military history from classrooms has left gaps in people's understanding of events like the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

"So you never know if who you're talking to has the faintest clue whatsoever," he said.

All four Canadian divisions fought together for the first time at Vimy, including many French-Canadians.

In four days, 3,600 Canadian soldiers died and another 5,000 were wounded. But the ridge was taken, much of it in the first day.​

"The Canadian corps ... were given a chance to capture a position that had defied both British and French attack for the whole of the war," Morton said. 

"They were successful. It was a victory that was much applauded at the time."

Vote to be held next week

The Société d'histoire d'Outremont adopted a resolution to name Vimy Park after Parizeau.

No one from the borough was available to comment.

Parizeau, who had lived for years on a street adjoining the small park, died June 1, 2015, at age 84. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Diamond said he's disappointed by the idea — and its timing.

"We are coming up to the 100th anniversary of Vimy next year, and so few people in Canada know about it," he said.

"I think what we risk doing when we replace events that have happened 100 years ago, or 500 years ago or 1,000 years ago, we risk erasing them from our memory altogether."

He thinks Parizeau should be honoured in another way.

"Is there another park? Is there a roadway? Is there a town square?" Diamond said. "I don't think that what needs to happen is replace one story with another."

Corrections

  • An earlier version of the story stated that Outremont's borough council would vote on the resolution on June 20. In fact, Montreal's municipal council will.
    Jun 16, 2016 10:37 PM ET

With files from Arian Zarrinkoub

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