Quebec considers removing N-word from 11 place names

A stretch of the Gatineau River that has officially been called Nigger Rapids for decades could be renamed — along with 10 other sites in Quebec whose names include the racial slur — but there's little public pressure to do so.

Provincial commission says there has been no public pressure to expunge racial slur

The official name of these rapids on the Gatineau River south of Maniwaki, Que., includes the N-word racial slur. (CBC)

A stretch of the Gatineau River that has officially been called Nigger Rapids for decades could be renamed — along with 10 other sites in Quebec whose names include the racial slur.

But the provincial body that manages Quebec's place names says there has been little public pressure to rename the sites.

The rapids are located in the municipality of Bouchette about 120 kilometres north of Ottawa. They were named in memory of a black couple who drowned there in the early 1900s, said Jean-Pierre LeBlanc, spokesman for the Quebec Toponymy Commission.

After decades of being known by their informal name by the locals, the commission officially recognized the name in 1983.

"It was meant to describe the people who died," LeBlanc said. "There was no pejorative connotation then as there is now."

LeBlanc said that no formal request by residents has been made to change the name of the rapids but that the commission is considering whether it should rename all 11 sites that include the racial slur.

Claire Hamel, who lives near the rapids, said the official name is not a source of controversy among locals.

"Nobody talks about this," she said. "It's the name, that's it. Like Bouchette, like Maniwaki, like Ottawa."

Bouchette Mayor Réjean Major told Radio-Canada he has no intention of asking the commission to change the name of the rapids.

More N-word names

Changing an official name is a lengthy process that requires public consultation, LeBlanc said. 

"These are names that date back a long time," he said.

"Some people want to keep the names. They say that it's a witness of the past. It shows the history of black people in Quebec and how it was at that time. Others say the names are no longer fit."

The commission has recognized six place names that include the N-word in English and five that include the word nègre, which in French can mean both Negro and the N-word.

A hill 50 kilometres south of Montreal near the U.S. border contains the N-word in its name. It's the site where black slaves were buried from 1794 until slavery was abolished in 1833, according to the commission.

In Quebec's Laurentides region, the commission has recognized three rapids along the Red River that have the N-word in their names, but it does not detail the origin of the names on its website.

The Niger River, near Sherbrooke, was officially spelled with two g's between 1986 and 2006. It was named for the large presence of African-Americans along its banks in the early 19th century, according to the commission. The river is believed to have been used by those fleeing slavery in the United States.

There's also Lac du Nègre and Ruisseau du Nègre in west Quebec, Rivière du Nègre near Drummondville, Le Buttereau-du-Nègre on Îles-de-la-Madeleine and Lac à Ti-Nègre near Shawinigan.


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