NEW YORK, June 26, 2016/ Troy Media/ – The decision by the City of Montreal to rename Vimy Park after the late Jacques Parizeau is one which is so ridiculous on its face that I am forced to ask if Mayor Denis Coderre needs to check the council chamber for asbestos or lead contaminants tout de suite.
“Should we have done this differently?” the mayor asked. “Maybe.” He also promised to find another “public space” to pay homage to Vimy.
What is staggering is that the vote from Montreal’s city council was 51-2 in favour of erasing the Vimy name. This means that in an entire city council of a diverse modern metropolis it occurred to only two people – two! – that this might be une mauvaise idée.
Not just a bad idea. A terrible idea. Let’s leave aside for a moment the choice of Parizeau. But to strip the name from the park with nary a thought to the symbolic and actual disdain it shows towards veterans, towards their fellow Canadians – living, dead and unborn – is an insult that goes beyond ignorance.
This action reeks of one set of people – the Montreal city council – intentionally thumbing its nose and delighting in inflicting distress.
On who? On all the rest of us – the ones not in the club. Those of us who don’t regale in reaping the benefits of being part of Canada but feel oh so daring and special when they lift thumb to nose and waggle their fingers at what the rest of Canada holds dear. In this case, a battle so revered that it transcends national memory to become almost sacred.
The website of the Canadian War Museum says it best:
Many historians and writers consider the Canadian victory at Vimy a defining moment for Canada, when the country emerged from under the shadow of Britain and felt capable of greatness … The capture of Vimy was more than just an important battlefield victory. Brigadier-General A.E. Ross declared after the war, “In those few minutes I witnessed the birth of a nation.”
This is not the first time the powers that be in Montreal have been tone deaf to tradition and sentiment – witness the light speed with which they sought to rename Dorchester Boulevard for René Lévesque after his death in 1987.
It is one thing to update our collective expressions of nationhood and the symbols we use to best express who we are at a certain moment in time. It is an opportunity to correct past injustices or include those whom we overlooked due to generational arrogance or ignorance.
It is quite another to erase, even in part, an event, a battle, a coming of age that in and of itself has become a repository in perpetuity for the nation’s soul – indeed without which there may not be a nation to speak of, to celebrate or for which to sacrifice.
There are certain core moments in the history of a nation that are not open to subsequent relegation or revisiting. They simply are such a part of the fabric of the country that they must not be subject to the whims of a city council that is a transient collection of men and women who have no business interfering with our shared heritage.
Vimy signifies the ultimate sacrifice of thousands of young Canadians who found themselves in the middle of a human hell, who died to secure our future as a nation and whose fierceness and bravery in battle showed that we were in fact a nation.
To supplant their memory in favour of Jacques Parizeau – the man who wanted nothing more than to rip Canada apart – is contemptible.
What the Montreal city council has done is perfectly within its power. It is, however, so far outside their right that this injustice and insult, if allowed to stand, should permanently soil the character of that city.
Shame on you, Montreal. Honte à toi, Montréal.
Troy Media columnist Gavin MacFadyen is a U.S based writer and occasional lawyer. Blending insight and wit, he brings a unique perspective to the issues of the day. Gavin is also included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.
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