Should Place des Festivals be renamed in honour of Oscar Peterson?


After an attempt to name a Metro station in his honour failed earlier this year, a Montreal opposition party is calling for Place des Festivals to be named for the late, great jazz pianist Oscar Peterson. 

Ensemble Montréal submitted a motion at Monday’s council meeting calling for the Place des Festivals to be renamed Place Oscar Peterson.

This summer, a petition in favour of renaming Lionel-Groulx station after Peterson gathered 26,000 signatures, but the city and its transit agency, the STM, said that was unlikely.

An STM spokesperson said this summer the agency has had a moratorium on name changes since 2006, and that stations are typically named after the streets they exit onto or nearby landmarks.

The debate on how best to honour Peterson’s legacy has been ongoing since his death in 2007. A grassroots initiative was launched a year later to rename the station, which is near Little Burgundy, where he grew up.

An article published in the The New York Times in August brought international attention to the issue. It also highlighted the mixed legacy of Groulx, a Roman Catholic priest who defended francophone rights, and held anti-Semitic views.

‘I felt like it would be an easy win’

Naveed Hussain started the petition to rename Lionel-Groulx Métro after Oscar Peterson this summer. (Matt D’Amours/CBC)

Naveed Hussain, who started the petition this summer, met with Ensemble Montréal a few months ago about finding another place to name after Peterson. They came up with Place des Festivals.

“I just felt like there was a synergy because Oscar Peterson was a great jazz man. He played at the International Jazz Festival many times throughout his career,” Hussain said. 

“I felt like it would work and be an easy win.”

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said Monday she wouldn’t take a stance on the renaming of Place des Festivals, adding she would want Peterson’s family to be consulted on the matter.

Ensemble Montréal said it asked Peterson’s widow, Kelly Peterson, what she thought and that she said the musician would have been extremely touched by the gesture.

Lionel Perez, the leader of the party, said Peterson deserves his place on the city map as a thank-you for the prestige he brought to the city and its Black community.

Peterson made over 200 recordings over the course of his career and won numerous awards, including eight Grammy awards.

Place des Festivals, inaugurated in 2009, has long been the venue for the Montreal International Jazz Festival. (Jeanette Kelly/CBC)

Ensemble Montréal points out that Place des Festivals, inaugurated in 2009 in the Quartier des Spectacles, is at the heart of the Montreal International Jazz Festival.

In 1990, the festival created an annual Oscar Peterson prize to recognize artists and their contribution to Canadian jazz.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.




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