Tuesday 6 April 1999

Still in the thick of it

The Gazette

Nick Auf der Maur was one of the most widely liked Montrealers of our day, and a ceremony at 4:30 p.m. tomorrow will mark the first anniversary of his death in an upbeat manner. A street sign bearing his name will go up in centre city.

For city hall officially to name a public place after Nick is fully appropriate, and particularly a place located in the downtown district that the saloon-savant for so many years enlivened as a customer, represented as a city councillor and often celebrated as a Gazette columnist.

Still, it's a bit of a letdown that the place in question happens to be an alley. True, the Ruelle Nick Auf der Maur is felicitously located next to one of his haunts, Winnie's pub. But the rude site recalls how, in 1990, city hall decided to name another place after a widely known anglophone in the city's nightlife, jazz-club owner Rufus Rockhead. The street it chose is an obscure, stubby little deadend in St. Henri.

Hey, Montreal, can't we do better?

Many people are surprised that Crescent St. itself has not been renamed for Nick. As it turns out, there's no reason to assume that city hall did not want to. Gerry Weiner, the councillor who now represents downtown and sits on the Bourque administration's executive committee, notes that city hall received no request to rename Crescent St., or any other street, for Nick.

Rather, Nick's friends appear to have been reluctant about making the request. Nick himself, they say, had been firmly opposed to changing Dorchester Blvd. to Rene Levesque Blvd. and Mountain St. to de la Montagne St. The virtue of the alley, it is argued, is that it has never had a name.

But wait a minute. Wasn't it because of his respect for history that Nick was against those changes? Dorchester Blvd. had been named after Lord Dorchester, an 18th-century governor-general, and many people believe that Mountain St. had been named not after Mount Royal but rather Jacob Mountain, Quebec's first Anglican bishop. Crescent St. is named after no one.

It's hard to imagine that Nick would have felt strongly about a moniker chosen in 1860 because at that time the street was crescent-shaped. Today, with the street straight, it's an uninteresting misnomer.

If Nick's friends go for it, they can count on Mr. Weiner's help. "The decision to rename Crescent St.," he said yesterday, "would be city council's, but I'd do everything I can in support of it."

Regardless of what's decided, though, it's clear that Nick's spirit is still alive. There he is, at the very heart of a controversy.

1998 The Gazette,
a division of Southam Inc.

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