Skip to content

Richler tribute debated

Quebec nationalists opposed to the idea

With the tenth anniversary of the death of world-renowned author and journalist Mordecai Richler months away, city councillors Michael Applebaum and Marvin Rotund have released an online petition to publicly commemorate the Montreal writer.

Richler was famous for his Governor General’s and Commonwealth Award winning novels, his columns for the National Post and the Gazette, and his children’s books. His novels Joshua, Then and Now and The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz have been made into films, with a film based one of his other bestsellers, Barney’s Version, being released in December.

The petition has received over 600 online signatures since it was released last week, and asks the public for suggestions on how to commemorate the writer.

“Right now we’re at the point where we want to get the public on board in terms of suggestions… we’re interested in what the public has to say and there’s a short comment section on the petition where individuals can put forth ideas for what should be renamed. … So far we’ve received a wide variety of ideas, including nearby parks, streets, and libraries,” said Rotund.

The councillor said that another one of the suggestions was placing a plaque outside the house on St. Urbain that Richler grew up in, which today remains unmarked.

“Richer’s writing signifies Montreal and the experience of its citizens, especially the immigrant experience,” said Rotund. “Thousands of Montrealers can identify with Richler’s themes.”

Despite Richler’s popularity, the petition has a few challenges ahead. Some of Richler’s writings critical of Quebec sovereignty offended Quebec nationalists. Mario Beaulieu, president of the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste, has described Richler as an “anti-Quebec racist” because of the author’s criticisms of Quebec nationalism.

In response to the allegations, Rotund said, “The majority of Montrealers would still support the honouring of one of the most famous Canadian writers.”

Although there are no formal restrictions applied to Richler’s writings, his novels are rarely taught at McGill. In an interview with The Daily, English Professor Brian Trehearne said, “Richler’s works have been dropping out of McGill course syllabi. … One possible problem is the wealth of [Canadian] authors from the 1950s.”

When asked about the influence that the release of the film Barney’s Version and the possible street renaming would have, Trehearne said that “popular approval of certain authors doesn’t necessarily lead to their work being taught in an academic setting.”

Trehearne added that “another part of people’s unawareness of Richler is that Canadian authors don’t receive the recognition they deserve. … One goes to London or Boston and one is much more aware of the literary figures who used to be there”.

The petition remains open for everyone to submit their signatures and ideas. When The Daily went to print, the petition had collected 647 signatures.