Montreal removed the name of British general Jeffery Amherst’s from its street map on Friday in favour of Atateken Street—a Mohawk word that means brotherhood.
City and Indigenous leaders were on hand Friday to announce the name change that will erase traces of the British general who openly expressed a desire to eradicate Indigenous populations and advocated using blankets laced with smallpox to quell their rebellions.
“Today we are removing General Jeffery Amherst from our past—we’re erasing that part of our past, both your past and ours—but we won’t forget,” said Ghislain Picard, head of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador.
“Now that Amherst Street has a new name, the spirit of our peoples, the spirit of our ancestors can now rest in peace.”
Mohawk leaders from the Montreal area and Mayor Valerie Plante also attended the announcement, which coincided with National Indigenous Peoples Day.
Hilda Nicholas, director of Kanesatake’s language and cultural centre and part of a committee that chose the name, said the word Atateken translates to brotherhood—a group of people or nations sharing common values.
“While we cannot erase history, nor should we want to, the removal of his name from this street shows the willingness of Montreal to work together,” Nicholas said. “Not only in reconciliation, but with common values and beliefs.”
The street had long been named for the general who oversaw the capitulation of Montreal on Sept. 8, 1760.
His name appears across the continent and can be seen in such places as the town of Amherst, N.S., and Amherstburg, ON. There are several other streets and places named for Amherst elsewhere in Quebec.
Kahnawake Grand Chief Joe Norton called the renaming an important history lesson. “It’s happened over the course of history all over the place and people are shocked by it,” Norton said, referring to the use of germ warfare. “Well, ladies and gentlemen, it happened right here in our own backyard, and it happened to our people—not just Mohawk people but right across the country.”
Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Simon said the name change signals a shift in thinking.
“It’s not just the change of street, it’s a change of mindset,” Simon said. “Here today, we have a gathering of minds—minds that want to see something change. They’re accepting now that there’s something missing in their history—and that something is us.”
Plante said the name is a significant step towards reconciliation. The name will become official at the end of the summer once council has approved it. Both street names will appear side-by-side for several weeks to allow citizens to get used to the change.
“I just love this idea—this name—because Montreal is about being inclusive, being open-minded, wanting to work through our differences,” Plante said. “This is one of the many ways we can contribute to the reconciliation process.”
Marie-Eve Bordeleau, Montreal’s commissioner of Indigenous affairs, said a variety of Indigenous communities, experts and groups were consulted as part of the renaming process.
“The change of Amherst Street was for all of us, so it was important to be inclusive,” Bordeleau said. “We had different proposals on the table, and it was by talking altogether that Atateken was brought to us.”
She said the city’s Indigenous toponymy committee will continue to create a bank of names to use in the future.
“We have the intention of changing other places,” she said.