Montreal tour guide wants more Indigenous history incorporated into industry training

Donovan King has been a tour guide in Montreal for the past year and feels more Indigenous perspectives need to be included in the city's tourism industry, including the Mohawk name for Mount Royal.

Tourists are asking for the original names of landmarks like Mount Royal, says Donovan King

Donovan King is a history teacher and a tour guide with his own company, Irish Montreal Excursions. (Submitted by Donovan King)

Donovan King, a licensed tour guide in Montreal for the past year, says he gets a lot of questions from tourists about Indigenous Peoples that he feels ill equipped to answer.

He's now calling on the city to Indigenize its tourism industry.

"Tourists want Indigenous experiences," said King, who is a history teacher and works as a guide with his own company Irish Montreal Excursions.

"As a tour guide, I often get questions of 'What's this in the Native language?' and I realized this hadn't been taught at the tour guiding school."

Under Montreal city bylaws, any person who leads tours must have a permit and to get a permit, they need to take a 240-hour training program run by the Institut de tourisme et d'hôtellerie du Quebec.

Marie-Josée Lestage, public relations officer of ITHC, said the program includes a history component.

"Since it's only 45 hours, it's really a general class," she said.

"We talk more about First Nations in the class than we talk about Jeanne Mance or Maisonneuve because it's really important in our history, but it can always be improved."

King, however, felt the program was too Eurocentric. He would like guides to have access to information about Indigenous perspectives, and at the very least Indigenous names of places around the city, in the spirit of reconciliation.

The Mohawk name for Mount Royal

One of those places is Mount Royal. He looked to Les amies de le montagne, the non-profit organization that protects, improves and promotes the park in downtown Montreal, for information about the original name.

He was told by email there was "no known name used by natives for Mount Royal prior to the contact period. In addition, the stories of the discoverers do not mention the name given to the mountain by the natives."

According to former Mohawk Council of Kahnawake chief Christine Zachary-Deom, the area was known as Otsirà:ke.

"It was from the time when we used to meet together, when many different First Nations people used to gather and a great council fire was held," she said.

Zachary-Deom sat on the committee that created a new symbol for Montreal's flag and is encouraged to see more names and places to recognize Mohawk history of the island.

"It's an absolute necessity and I'm noticing people are starting to pick this up, like Mr. King. It's a good thing,' said Zachary-Deom.

What does Otsirà:ke mean?

Michael Doxtater, an assistant professor at Queens University fluent in Kanien'ké​ha/Mohawk, said the direct translation of Otsirà:ke or Hotsirà:ken would mean "place of the fire" and is where the name Hochelaga stems from.

"Hotsirà:ken is an ancient ancestral place, an Indigenous place," said Doxtater.

Michael Doxtater, a Mohawk from Six Nations, is Queens University's National Scholar in Indigenous Studies. (Michael Doxtater)

It was a Mohawk village of around 5,000 people on the island.

"The island was what I would call a metropolitan trade centre," said Doxtater.

"The Algonquin people would come down the Ottawa River, [people] would come down from the Innu territories up the St. Lawrence and then there would be the various Iroquois linguistic groups that would converge and that was a major, major trade centre."

While Doxtater said he thinks it's a good idea for Mount Royal to be recognized as its name in Mohawk, he said it will take more for reconciliation.

"The idea of renaming places is really in my view like gluing beads and feathers on the place. You know what I mean? Let's glue some beads and feathers on the place and now we're reconciled," he said.

Les amies de la montagne said they invited King to meet with them, and until that happens they will not be be granting media requests on the subject.


Ka’nhehsí:io Deer is a Kanien’kehá:ka journalist from Kahnawà:ke, south of Montreal. She is currently a reporter with CBC Indigenous covering communities across Quebec.