A Queen, A Saint, and An Oratory

So what’s a city to do now that it has its very own saint?

Oratoire Saint Joseph
Saint Frère André Queen Mary of Teck

Pictured above are Saint Joseph’s Oratory (L’Oratoire Saint Joseph), Canada’s largest church founded by the now-sainted Frère André, which is located one block east of where I live on Chemin Queen-Mary, named so in 1910 after the queen-consort of then-reigning King Edward V.

Since the canonization of Alfred Bessette (a.k.a. Saint André de Montréal) last weekend, many have come forward with the suggestion of renaming Queen Mary Road Chemin du Saint-Frère-André. Privately, well before I even heard this suggestion, I had thought this change imminent. The problem as I see it, though, is that there are already a Rue du Frère-André and, moreover, a Chemin du Frère-André just off the oratory ground.

Merely adding “Saint” to Frère André for the renamed Queen Mary Road would exacerbate the already messy toponymy of my adopted home of Montréal. It took me a while to figure out that MANY are the streets that are non-continuous in this town. It’s little wonder non-Montrealers claim that they always get lost in and around Montréal!

For instance, Avenue de l’Hôtel de Ville and Rue de Bullion both stop at or near Saint-Catherine to restart further “north” at Ontario — the angle of the Island of Montréal is such that north is resolutely west-northwest but is called “north” to signify “north of the Saint Lawrence River” — while a whole whack of north-south streets from Rue Hutchison on the “east” to Avenue Stuart on the “west” get interupted by a mess of train tracks and wouldn’t come close to aligning even if they weren’t interrupted! Similarly, in the last year I discovered that a new short dead-end street off Rue Dickson far to the east is simply named Rue Ontario Est since it would align with that street if it weren’t for the one-KILOMETRE separation caused by more train tracks and a field of factories. And the highway numbering system in the metropolitan area is no better: the official Trans-Canada Highway comes in as Autoroute 40 in the west, turns to Autoroute 25 (requiring a formal exit from the 40) through the Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine Bridge-Tunnel, but automatically turns to Autoroute 20 at the end of tunnel on the south side of the Saint Lawrence River.

But coming back to the Frère André versus Queen Mary question……

I tend to agree that the thoroughfare on which the oratory is located ought to be renamed after Québec’s one and only saint, while the existing minor streets already bearing his name should also be renamed to avoid confusion. However, the point at which my support wanes is when I read the arguments in favour by arrogant francophones like Gilles Proulx, who believe that it would be a much-needed antidote to Montréal’s “toponymie trop anglaise et, souvent, ridiculement britannique” (too-English and, often, ridiculously British toponymy). Proulx goes so far as offhandedly remark that he hopes les Anglosne rouspéteront pas trop” (won’t annoyingly oppose too much) renaming the thoroughfare from that old, long-dead ENGLISH queen to that even-older, even-longer-dead simple man of a Québécois who just got sainted, as they did when they successfully opposed the renaming of Avenue du Parc (Park Avenue) to Avenue Robert-Bourassa back in 2006.

I’m fucking French down to my marrow and I’m damned proud of it. But maybe because, unlike most Québécois, I actually grew up and lived most of my life outside Québec, I don’t feel the least bit threatened by les Anglos. Not only do I not see the need to brandish such nationalistic arguments, but I also think it’s disingenous to do so because it only opens up for all to see (and deride) that great big insecurity the Québécois hold about the richness and vibrancy of their culture. The pep talk has been going on for at least 50 friggin’ years, and you know what? We all get it already!

The mere fact the oratory this saint has founded is located on the street is sufficient argument, thank you very much. Don’t go lace it with a bunch of other crap. But it should also be kept in mind that, although Saint André de Montréal may be credited with a bunch of miracles, he is also remembered as a very simple and quasi illiterate man. I can understand why the “simple people of Québec” find that attribute equally inspiring, but it also, regrettably, plays into the “small” side of Québec that is often at the source of this people’s insecurity.

{2} Thoughts on “A Queen, A Saint, and An Oratory

  1. It seems odd now that when I was a kid, I used to say St-Lawrence Blvd instead of Blvd St-Laurent. I am all for preserving French culture in Quebec so I am okay with some of the renaming as long as it is part of an inclusive approach that takes into account the diverse contributions along the way, a rejigging so to speak to better reflect the linguistic and cultural realities as they really are and were as opposed to what some would want them to be or to have been.

  2. Bottom line for me, I have no problem with renaming Chemin Queen-Mary to Chemin du Saint-Frère-André on its own merit. I do have a problem with insisting on keeping the metro Lionel-Groulx, whose anti-semitic views were legendary, just because it’s a French name instead of renaming the station Oscar Peterson.

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