Tiohtià:ke (Montreal), May 18, 2021

 

‘Not in our name’: Saint-Leonard proposal to name a metro station after Italian explorer does not represent us 

 

On May 3, 2021, the Saint-Leonard borough council passed a motion recommending the STM name one of the metro stations in the blue line extension plan after colonial "explorer" Giovanni da Verrazzano. Councillor Dominic Perri made this proposal “on behalf of the Italian community,” which, in this context, means the Casa d’Italia, the National Congress of Italian-Canadians, the Italian-Canadian Community Foundation, and the Canadian Italian Business and Professional Association. We say: Not in our name!

 

While Italian-Canadians have historically inhabited the area in large numbers, today the East End is composed of vibrant Algerian, Haitian, Moroccan, Vietnamese, and Latin American communities, among many others. Who gets to decide how to best represent the diversity of Montreal’s East End? Who gets to speak on behalf of Italian Montrealers? In the sixteenth century, Verrazzano was commissioned by King Francis I of France to explore the Atlantic coast, from present-day Florida to Newfoundland. How do Councillor Perri, Councillor Battista, and aforementioned supporters conclude that naming a metro station after a white colonial-era “explorer” represents Montreal’s East End neighbourhoods in any way, shape or form? In what ways does this figure reflect our contemporary values of diversity and inclusion? How can they, in good conscience, propose to create yet another monument commemorating settler colonialism amidst ongoing efforts to decolonize our public spaces? Italians, like other immigrants who benefitted and continue to benefit from the fraught history of this land, might want to explore their civic duty to actively engage in reconciliation. 

 

There is no shortage of colonial ‘memorabilia’ in Montreal. What’s more, the Italian presence in the city, in the East End and beyond, is already well-established and recognized through various urban landmarks such as the Centre Leonardo Da Vinci or Parc Giuseppe Garibaldi, which are named, for the most part, after Italian men. Italian women, and women more broadly, are underrepresented in the landscape of Saint-Leonard, as Councillor Lili-Anne Tremblay noted in her lone dissenting opinion during the May 3 meeting. Despite making up 52 percent of the population, just over three percent  of Saint-Leonard’s topography bears a woman’s name. To our knowledge, Santa Cabrini Hospital is the only public space named after an Italian woman in Saint-Leonard. The borough did not put forth a single woman’s name for the metro station, and Councillor Tremblay went on the record to speak to this very point.

 

The borough did not put forth a single name reflective of a non-Italian culture, either. As Italian-Montrealers continue to work to reclaim and rehabilitate our own culture from colonial white supremacy and hypermasculinity, the members of C.I.A.O. (many of whom were born and raised in Saint-Leonard) certainly do not see themselves represented by a colonial narrative that is Italian-by-proxy, at best. What’s more, we feel an inherent duty to be more proactive in fostering inclusion and nurturing intercultural relationships in the borough and city at large, rather than uphold the same symbolic, race-based erasure experienced by Italian newcomers who were once considered a disfavoured migrant group. Saint-Leonard is a borough not unacquainted with cross-community racism, exacerbated by the failure to acknowledge the very existence of some populations through, among other things, mechanisms like urban toponymy. 

 

This anachronistic and ill-researched proposition, combined with the councilmen’s disregard of Ms. Tremblay’s intervention, fails to respond to two priorities identified by the STM naming committee: ensuring (1) “the final choices represent multicultural and Indigenous realities”; and leave (2) “plenty of space for women in the proposal analysis” [translation]. For the “Verrazzano Proposal'' to be genuinely representative of Saint-Leonard, Councillor Perri and his supporters [1] would have had to present it in collaboration and dialogue with the other members of the community. By failing to do so, these councillors have not lived up to their duty as elected representatives of all Saint-Leonard residents, instead privileging the narrow ideology of a select few. We urge the STM to disregard this motion in favour of a name that truly embodies the vibrancy and diversity of the neighbourhood. 

 

C.I.A.O. encourages Montreal's East-End community groups and organizations to put forward a list of potential names that may serve as the basis for naming the new metro station(s), or be helpful in diversifying the current Toponym'Elles register for future additions to the East End’s urban landscape. We are currently collecting signatures and name suggestions here.

We, at C.I.A.O, can share resources with those who are interested in engaging in this conversation.

Canadian Italians Against Oppression (C.I.A.O.)

[1] On the record: Councillor Mario Battista; Casa d’Italia; the National Congress of Italian-Canadians, the Italian-Canadian Community Foundation; and the Canadian Italian Business and Professional Association

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