Change names of Quebec places with N-word in them, petition asks Quebec commission

More than 600 people have signed an online petition asking ’s toponymy commission to immediately change the names of 11 geographic sites in the province that include the N-word or the word Nègre.

Rachel Zellars, a PhD student at McGill University, started the petition after learning from a media report that several Quebec place names and geographical sites contain the French word “Nègre.” Zellars said she hopes to collect several thousand signatures and wants to send a message to the toponymy commission and the Quebec government that those names are unacceptable.

One of the sites is a section of the Gatineau River called Rapides des Nègres. The rapids, which were named after a black couple drowned there in 1912, are located in a town called Bouchette in the Outaouais region. Some locals still refer to the site as Nigger Rapids, the commission says.

“The word nigger has always been a term of debasement for black people here and in every other place in North America,” said Zellars, an American who has studied the history of slavery and anti-black racism. Zellars said the French word “Nègre” does not simply mean black or Negro. “It’s a word that is used to debase Quebec’s black population.”

According to information on the commission’s website, members of a local Indian band discovered the bodies of a black couple in the river in Bouchette and buried them along the riverbank in 1912. A local priest named the area Nigger Rapids in memory of the couple, the commission says. Zellars said it would be appropriate to set up a memorial at the site of the rapids to remember the black couple who perished there.

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A spokesperson for the Commission de toponymie du Québec said the commission is “sensitive toward comments that have been made in this case.”

“Our analysts will gather the information and present it to the members of the commission this fall,” spokesperson Julie Letourneau said on Wednesday. “We will let them know that there are concerns among the population and it will be up to them to decide (whether to change the names).”

The commission, which manages place names in Quebec, received a message recently from a citizen saying he was uncomfortable with the word Nègre being officially recognized and wanted changes. Name changes require public consultation and must follow several steps before a change can be made, Letourneau said.

Bouchette Mayor Réjean Major told Radio- last week that he has no intention of asking the commission to change the name of the rapids in his town. He did not return a call from the Montreal Gazette on Wednesday.

Quebec also has a lake named Lac à Ti-Nègre near Shawinigan and a river called Rivière du Nègre in Drummondville. The Rivière Niger in the Eastern Townships was spelled with two Gs between 1986 and 2006, the commission says. Many African Americans lived in the area in the 19th century, including several who fled slavery in the U.S.

Montreal Gazette

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