Decision to rename Vimy park criticized

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A Montreal borough’s plan to pay tribute to late sovereigntist premier Jacques Parizeau by changing the name of a park that currently honours Vimy Ridge is being blasted by some critics as disrespectful to Canada’s war history.

On Wednesday, the city’s executive committee adopted a resolution in favour of a proposal to rename Parc Vimy in Outremont after Parizeau, the man who led the Yes side to a narrow defeat in the 1995 sovereignty referendum.

Former Liberal interim leader Bob Rae was one of many people who took to Twitter to denounce the decision, calling it “an insult.”

“Changing a park in Montreal from ‘Vimy’ to ‘Jacques Parizeau’ — and this during the 100th anniversary of WW1 — an insult pure and simple,” he wrote.

The recommendation noted that Parizeau lived near the park for much of his life and even insisted his funeral take place in the borough.

Parizeau died last year at the age of 84.

In announcing the decision, Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre said the park would be renamed “in honour of our premier who was a great economist and a pillar of the Quiet Revolution.”

But many on social media expressed displeasure that a park named after one of Canada’s defining military moments would be rechristened for someone whose goal was to lead Quebec out of Canada.

Jeremy Diamond, executive director of the non-profit Vimy Foundation, said he was “surprised and disappointed” to learn of the proposal, especially as the 100-year anniversary of the battle is only months away.

“To replace Vimy with another story doesn’t do the respect that Vimy deserves,” he said. “We feel there must be another spot in Montreal that can honour and speak about Mr. Parizeau’s impact on Quebec and Canadian history.”

He described the 1917 battle of Vimy Ridge, in which four Canadian divisions succeeded in capturing a German-held escarpment in northern France, as a standout moment in the country’s military history.

He noted it was the first time Canadian troops fought together rather than being separated into different units.

“There’s a great symbolism to this because we entered the war as British subjects and when the war ended in 1918 we were asked to sign the peace treaty as Canadians,” he said.

“We were seen as a much different country and much of it has to do with that victory at Vimy.”

He said Canadians tend to suffer from “historical amnesia,” with younger generations feeling increasingly disconnected from their history.

“We’ve never honestly been good at telling our stories, but Vimy is one of the ones we should be telling,” he said.

Former premiers Robert Bourassa and Rene Levesque have had key Montreal streets named in their honour, with the decision in 1987 to turn Dorchester Boulevard (named after Guy Carleton, an Anglo-Irish soldier who later became known as Lord Dorchester) into Boulevard Rene-Levesque rankling many at the time.

In fact, the staunchly federalist and predominantly separate city of Westmount has steadfastly kept the name Dorchester for the portion of the thoroughfare that is located on its territory.

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