No Montreal Metro tribute for jazz great Oscar Peterson

TORONTO (Reuters Life!) - A Montreal subway station in the neighborhood where the late jazz piano great Oscar Peterson grew up won’t be renamed in his honor, according to the city’s transit commission.

File photo shows Canadian jazz pianist Oscar Peterson performingduring the Gala night at the 39th edition of the Montreux Jazz Festival in Montreux, Switzerland, late July 16, 2005. REUTERS/Jean-Bernard Sieber-ARC

The decision comes despite an online petition signed by more than 5,000 people who have joined a group on Facebook pushing for the tribute to the Canadian musician, who died at his home near Toronto last December at the age of 82.

The Facebook group’s creator says renaming the Montreal Metro station would right a 30-year-old wrong, describing the public figure it was originally named after as a racist.

Still, the city’s transit commission says it won’t end its moratorium on renaming stations.

“It’s not a judgment on what Oscar Peterson was or what he represents, because everybody agrees he was a great musician” Marianne Rouette, a spokeswoman for Societe de transport de Montreal, told Reuters on Thursday.

The station, opened in 1978, is called Lionel-Groulx, after Quebec nationalist cleric Lionel-Adolphe Groulx.

The Facebook group says on its petition that the name should be changed because Groulx “opposed all non-Catholic immigration to Canada, supported the Fascists during WWII and the Spanish Civil War, and acted to deny access to Canada to Jewish asylum-seekers during the Holocaust.”

Michael Citrome, a University of Montreal graduate law student, who created the online petition, says the moratorium should be set aside and wants the city to step in.

“(We will) do all we can ... to correct this sad irony of history that puts the name of a racist on a Metro station in a historically black neighborhood,” Citrome said.

“Oscar Peterson was someone in his lifetime who faced discrimination and racism ... He was living proof that a poor black kid, literally from the wrong side of the tracks ... can become a world-class figure just through hard work and God-given talent.”

City councilor Catherine Sevigny, responsible for culture in the mayor’s office, said a committee is being formed to study ways to honor Peterson. She said the committee may decide to rename the station but added the city doesn’t usually like to interfere with the transit commission.

She noted that landmark tributes are not carried out until at least a year has passed since a public figure’s death.

Editing by Rob Wilson