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Quebec Has Several Places With Names Containing the N-Word — For Now

The Quebec Toponymy Commission confirmed to VICE News that they’re aware of public concerns and are reviewing the names. The director of the Black Coalition of Quebec objects, though.
Photo via the CBC

Soon after scrapping street names with Nazi connotations, the Quebec government is now reviewing several place names that contain the N-word.

But townspeople don't want to part with "Nigger Rapids," and neither does the province's leading black advocacy group.

As tradition has it, "Nigger Rapids," on the Gatineau River 75 miles north of Ottawa, was named after two African-Canadians who drowned there around the turn of the century. At that time, the slur was standard fare. Things have obviously changed.


It's hardly the only racist-sounding place name in Quebec. "Rocher Nigger," literally "Nigger Rock," takes its name from a cemetery for slaves who labored south of Montreal prior to abolition in Canada in 1833. Three other sites feature the English spelling of the N-word, while five opt for the French "Nègre," which also carries pejorative connotations. Rounding out the group is "Rivière Niger," which dropped the extra G in 2006.

A representative of the Quebec Toponymy Commission confirmed to VICE News that they're aware of public concerns. Their staff is currently preparing a report to submit to the group's decision making body.

"We'll present all the information to the members of the Commission during the fall," the representative said. "They'll interview concerned parties, and it could take a few more months to reach a decision."

Related: President Obama Uses the N-Word While Discussing Racism in America

The debate follows another controversy in nearby Gatineau, Quebec. This June, the city ditched two street names, rue Philipp-Lenard and rue Alexis-Carrel, after finding out that both men had associations to fascist governments in Germany and Vichy, France. Carrel helped implement eugenics policies during the war, while Lenard served as Hitler's Chief of Aryan Physics.

Many residents objected to that decision, fearing it would cost too much money. Shopkeepers close to the Gatineau rapids are also attached to the name. They say it isn't racist, and changing it isn't important. One restaurant owner was unaware of the term's connotation in English.


Josée Riel, who works at a grocery store in neighboring Sainte-Thérèse-de-la-Gatineau, says that the name has "never been discriminatory."

"I find it stupid to change the name," she told VICE News. "It's been named like that for 100 years."

Don Philip, director of the Black Coalition of Quebec, doesn't favor dropping the name either.

"What's important is that we'd lose a part of our history," he told VICE News. "We have to hold onto names when we talk about history. If we change 'Nigger Rapids' to 'Black Rapids,' will that have the same effect?"

The names show that African-Canadians have been present in Quebec for generations. Besides, he said, simply changing terms does little to advance the interests of black people in Quebec.

"Once they called us 'niggers,' then it was black, now it's black Canadian," he said.

The debate is unlikely to be the last, given the range of offensive place names in Quebec, and elsewhere in the country. Gatineau is also home to "Baie Squaw" (Squaw Bay), which includes a once common insult for Aboriginal women. Seven more places in Quebec feature the word, as do 19 other places across the country, according to National Resources Canada.

Follow Arthur White on Twitter: @jjjarthur 

Joseph Elfassi contributed reporting to this article.