His Duty

One man’s fight against militarism

Several years ago, Montreal’s city council announced that it would rename Outremont’s Vimy Park for Jacques Parizeau, the separatist premier who led Quebec before the 1995 referendum. The backlash was swift. What could be more outrageous, during the centenary of the First World War, than to rechristen a public space honouring Canada’s nation-building battle after a man who had tried to destroy the country?

What was remarkable, then as now, was how little officials had anticipated the reaction. The council seemed genuinely surprised by the uproar. Why would anyone care about the name of a tiny park, named for a three-day engagement in a war so long ago? But Anglo Montrealers and Anglo Canadians outside the province did care — about the defining 1917 battle in France and about its commemoration at home.

As compensation, the following year, the city renamed a corner of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce Park, in an...