- Montreal has officially changed the name of rue Amherst after announcing the renaming earlier this year and concluding a transition period this month.
- General Amherst made use of biological warfare to exterminate Indigenous populations.
- This is just the latest symbolic gesture toward reconciliation by the city of Montreal.
One of Montreal's age-old streets is being stripped of its old name and given a new one. The street 'Amherst' holds a dark history that is finally being brought to light. Jeffery Amherst, who the street is named after, is known as a father of biological warfare. He played a large role during the capitulation of Montreal in 1760.
The plan to rename the street was put in place by Mayor Coderre but finally executed under Mayor Plante. This was Coderre's second symbolic act toward reconciliation with Indigenous people after adding to the Montreal flag a white pine tree, a First Nations symbol of peace and harmony.
The changing of the street name from 'Amherst' to 'Atateken' is a move to more fully represent the diverse cultures of Montreal and to recognize the city's Indigenous roots.
Serge Simon, the Grand Chief of Kanesatake, stated that he believes the new street name, Ataketen, is fitting for Montreal. The name, meaning "brothers and sisters" in the kanien'kéha language, serves as a reminder that we are meant to live together in peace.
According to Mayor Plante, this is a step towards recognizing the wrongdoings of so many people remembered in street names and statues in Montreal.
There are towns in both Quebec and Nova Scotia that are named after Jeffery Amherst, as well as Amherst Island in Ontario. In the United States, there are 12 states that have towns named after this same man.
In 1763, Amherst ordered blankets infected with small-pox to be distributed to Indigenous populations. And it seems Montreal only started admitting it in the last few years. The purposeful spreading of small-pox through blankets is biological warfare.
"You will do well to try to inoculate the Indians by means of blankets, as well as to try every other method that can serve to extirpate this execrable race," Amherst wrote in a letter telling the people working under him to exterminate the Indigenous populations of North America.
So thankfully, a street name that holds so much negative baggage is being given a new name — one that represents the people whose ancestors were harmed by all the wrongdoings of Amherst.
And, as per usual, this change has left people with controversial opinions. This is how people are responding...
"And soon more street names will bear the names of women!!! A more equitable society #toponymy #feminism"
"Ohhh ok .... a priority for the city"
"Big job, nothing else to do!"
The removal of Amherst as a street name in Montreal is undeniably a move forward to a better, more transparent future for our city. This street name is just one of many problematic ones in our city, though.
Other Montreal street names that were named after problematic historical figures include Ave. Christopher Colombus, whose actions precipitated the genocide of Indigenous people; Ave. Laurier, named for the man who created the Chinese Head Tax; and Rue Jean-Talon, named after the man who had Indigenous people stripped from their homes in order to take over their land.