Montreal Coun. Marvin Rotrand presented a petition to city council to have a public place named after Elie Wiesel on Aug. 19.
Rotrand tabled letters of support from about a dozen Jewish and other organizations for his proposal, which he first floated at the June meeting of the Côte-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough council.
He was prompted to undertake the initiative after Toronto city council adopted a motion earlier in June to study the feasibility of renaming Clanton Park in North York to Elie Wiesel Park, as proposed by Coun. James Pasternak.
“It is my hope that Montreal can follow suit with an appropriate gesture that will give prominence to honouring the exemplary life of Elie Wiesel,” said Rotrand, a child of Holocaust survivors who has been a Montreal city councillor for 37 years and now sits as an independent.
As this was presented as a petition, there was no debate on the matter. Rotrand intends to table a motion in the fall that will formally request that city officials examine what would be the most appropriate place to name after Wiesel.
By that time, Rotrand expects to have collected letters of support from 30 to 40 organizations, “representing over 100,000 people.”
“It does not have to be a park, just as long as it is something appropriate.… I leave it to the experts. This must be an administrative, not political decision,” said Rotrand, who is well aware that renaming places can be contentious.
He would like to see this project realized by July 2, 2021, the fifth anniversary of Wiesel’s death.
Among the early supporters of the idea from the Jewish community are: B’nai Brith Canada, the Cummings Jewish Centre for Seniors, Chabad Zichron Kedoshim, the Jewish Public Library (JPL), the YM-YWHA and the Jewish Russian Community Centre.
Also endorsing the proposal are the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies, which is affiliated with Concordia University, and the Filipino Golden Agers Association.
Signing on as well are Mount Royal MP Anthony Housefather and D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum.
Rotrand, who represents the Snowdon district, said that after he brought up the idea in June, he received an encouraging number of expressions of interest. From there, he reached out to a number of organizations for their written support.
In addition to bringing the enormity of the Holocaust to widespread awareness through his books – most significantly, Night, a memoir of his experience as a survivor of a Nazi death camp – Rotrand said that Wiesel was “a strong spokesman for human rights, a great humanitarian and an eloquent voice for the Jewish people.
“Wiesel spoke against injustice wherever it reared its head and lent his voice and influence to those who were victims of genocide and violence. He founded the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity in 1986 to advance a vision where people confront hatred, genocide and violence and to promote human dignity.”
Rotrand believes that a public place named after Wiesel will serve as a permanent reminder of his call not to remain silent in the face of injustice.
Côte-St-Luc, Que., named a new green space after the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize-winning author almost two years ago.
Wiesel had a strong connection to Montreal, as it was home to one of his sisters, and he spoke in the city several times.
In a letter of support from the JPL, executive director Michael Crelinsten wrote: “On behalf of the officers and board of the library, I am pleased to confirm our support unreservedly for honouring Mr. Wiesel in this fashion.
“While a singular figure in the history of the Jewish community, he is equally so an iconic individual for people of all faiths and backgrounds. His name is synonymous with the need both to remember and to take responsibility for history, as well as to aspire to rise above it.”
In 2017, both Paris, where he lived after the war, and New York, where he died, named places after Wiesel. The historic Square du Temple in the 3rd arrondissement became Square du Temple-Elie Wiesel and the southwest corner of West 84 Street and Central Park West was dubbed Elie Wiesel Way.
Rotrand noted that Kent Park in Côte-des-Neiges was changed to Martin Luther King Jr. Park last year, to honour the legacy of the American civil rights leader on the 50th anniversary of his assassination. And while there was some opposition from citizens, it was minimal, he said.