Kahnawake man protests a problematic street name in Montreal

·3 min read

Earlier this month, on a scorching and humid day, community member and activist Sean French decided to go for a very long walk in Montreal while carrying the Warrior flag to protest the avenue named Christophe Colomb.

“My September 3 protest walk down Christophe Colomb Avenue and Atateken was 17 KM in all,” said French.

“I can’t believe Montreal still has a street named after a genocidal monster like Christopher Columbus. You can’t have reconciliation and keep street names like this.”

French explained that even though the City of Montreal changed a portion of the road from Amherst Street to Atateken in 2019, it was problematic and insensitive towards Indigenous people, given Columbus’s violent history.

“It just made sense for me to go on a walk while carrying the Warrior flag down Christophe Colomb and starting conversations with people along the way about the street name and why I don’t think it’s a good idea to have that,” he explained.

French’s journey began at Angrignon metro station. Once inside, he made his way to Lionel Groulx, where he changed metro lines and headed towards Henri Bourassa station.

“I got out of the metro at the north end of Henri Bourassa Boulevard. I got up the street and unfolded the flag, and put the flagpole together. I was already wearing my harness to hold the flag. From there, I walked to Gouin Park, on the banks of Riviere-des-Prairies facing Laval,” said the activist.

He walked through the park marching the flag and then headed down the street on Christophe Colomb.

He said he kept going and going while periodically stopping and chatting with different people. French said that he encountered and spoke to many people from different backgrounds that would stop and ask him what he was doing.

“The reaction I got from the people in the region varied between curiosity and indifference, but the vast majority were very positive about the message,” said French.

“I got a few thumbs up. People were honking or saying, ‘I love your flag. We support you guys.’ I got a lot of that.”

French continued down Christophe Colomb, going towards Atateken.

“I had some really positive conversations with people. By the end of the march, I probably interacted with about 30 people,” he said.

“There is definitely education needed. When I explained to them the specifics of Christophe Colomb, it kind of hit them. I was opening their eyes to the history.”

Over the last two years, as Indigenous issues moved to the forefront of Canadian society, institutions have had to reckon with their history, often marred with racism and discrimination against Indigenous Peoples.

In 2021, Ryerson University changed its name to Toronto Metropolitan University, and in 2020, McGill’s varsity men’s sports team was changed from the Redmen to Redbirds.

“I think finally things are starting to evolve in a way that Indigenous issues are finally being listened to - finally starting to realize that what we think matters too. If (people) are really serious about reconciliation, they need to fix this,” said French.

marisela.amador88@gmail.com

Marisela Amador, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door