Mcgill’s se­cret his­tory

the stuff your school doesn’t want you to know...

The McGill Daily - - Welcome -

Con­tent warn­ing: coloni­sa­tion, slav­ery Oc­cu­py­ing Tio’tià:ke

Peo­ple have lived on what is now called the Is­land of Mon­treal for eight mil­len­nia. In Kanien’kéha, the Mo­hawk lan­guage, the is­land is known as Tio’tià:ke. Prior to the ar­rival of French fur traders and mis­sion­ar­ies in the mid-six­teenth cen­tury, the land on which Mcgill sits was home to the for­ti­fied vil­lage of Hochelaga. An es­ti­mated pop­u­la­tion of 3000 St. Lawrence Iro­quoians lived there, but they soon dis­ap­peared as a re­sult of local con­flicts sparked by Euro­pean col­o­niza­tion. To­day, lit­tle re­mains of the St. Lawrence Iro­quoians. Mcgill’s only of­fi­cial me­mo­rial to them is the Hochelaga Rock, lo­cated on Lower Field across from the statue of James Mcgill.

Af­ter the de­struc­tion of Hochelaga, Tio’tià:ke was in­hab­ited by the Kanien’kehá:ka (‘Peo­ple of the Flint,’ also known as ‘Mo­hawk’). They are a found­ing mem­ber of the Hau­denosaunee Con­fed­er­acy, an al­liance that unites sev­eral In­dige­nous na­tions in the re­gion of the St. Lawrence Val­ley.

In the cen­turies fol­low­ing the ar­rival of the first Euro­pean colonists, the Kanien’kehá:ka (like count­less other In­dige­nous peo­ples) have been sys­tem­at­i­cally marginal­ized and sub­jected to cul­tural geno­cide by the emerg­ing Cana­dian state. Nev­er­the­less, they con­tinue to ac­tively pre­serve their cul­tural her­itage, an­ces­tral ter­ri­tory, and po­lit­i­cal au­ton­omy, de­spite on­go­ing colo­nial vi­o­lence.

The land our cam­pus oc­cu­pies was never of­fi­cially ceded by its orig­i­nal in­hab­i­tants. That’s why, sev­eral or­ga­ni­za­tions, in­clud­ing the Daily, open their meet­ings by ac­knowl­edg­ing that we live and work on the tra­di­tional ter­ri­tory of the Kanien’kehá:ka

Founded on anti-black vi­o­lence

This hal­lowed in­sti­tu­tion was founded in 1821, thanks to a be­quest from one James Mcgill, a Scot­tish busi­ness­man who had come to North Amer­ica as a young man in or­der to pur­sue a ca­reer in the fur trade. Mcgill achieved con­sid­er­able suc­cess in this line of work, a fact noted ap­prov­ingly on our university’s web­site. What the site fails to men­tion, is that he later di­ver­si­fied his busi­ness to deal in lu­cra­tive plan­ta­tion goods from the Caribbean - goods that were pro­duced through slave labour. In other words, the for­tune on which our school was founded was partly built on the backs of enslaved Black peo­ple.

Mcgill had also par­tic­i­pated in the slave trade him­self on at least two sep­a­rate oc­ca­sions. Ad­di­tion­ally, af­ter en­dors­ing a par­lia­men­tary bill that would have abol­ished slav­ery, he voted against it in 1793.

In ad­di­tion to prof­it­ing from the slave trade both di­rectly and in­di­rectly, Mcgill also held be­tween four and five per­sonal slaves. This may come as a sur­prise to those un­ac­cus­tomed to think­ing of slav­ery as part of Cana­dian his­tory; in fact, it was only abol­ished in 1834. Que­bec’s local econ­omy didn’t de­pend on slav­ery, so for peo­ple like Mcgill, hold­ing slaves was es­sen­tially a mark of sta­tus and priv­i­lege.

Thanks to the era­sure of Black and In­dige­nous sto­ries from Cana­dian his­tory, the iden­ti­ties of the peo­ple enslaved by Mcgill are not fully known. We do know, how­ever, that they in­cluded women named Louise and Sarah. No memo­ri­als or stat­ues of them stand on our cam­pus.

Anti-gen­tri­fi­ca­tion ac­tivism next door

If you’re read­ing this, there’s a good chance you know some­one who lives east of cam­pus be­tween University and Parc. Maybe you even live there your­self, pass­ing The Word every day on your way to class and writ­ing es­says at Mil­ton B late into the night. Ei­ther way, you’ve prob­a­bly heard this neigh­bour­hood re­ferred to as “The Mcgill Ghetto,” a ver­i­ta­ble ex­ten­sion of cam­pus in­hab­ited al­most ex­clu­sively by stu­dents.

If so, it might sur­prise you to learn that this isn’t ac­cu­rate in the least. Stu­dents make up only a small mi­nor­ity of the local pop­u­la­tion, vastly out­num­bered by fam­i­lies, work­ing pro­fes­sion­als, long-term res­i­dents, and re­cent im­mi­grants. Many of these peo­ple ob­ject to the des­ig­na­tion “Mcgill Ghetto,” pre­fer­ring their neigh­bour­hood’s of­fi­cial ti­tle: Mil­ton-parc.

Not only is this pic­turesque corner of Mon­treal not a ghetto in any sense of the word, but it has its own unique and fas­ci­nat­ing his­tory. In 1968, most of the neigh­bour­hood was pur­chased by Con­cor­dia Es­tates Ltd., a com­pany that planned to de­mol­ish it in or­der to con­struct a mas­sive high-rise com­plex. This news sparked a wave of grass­roots re­sis­tance from the com­mu­nity, and the next few years saw protests, ral­lies, meet­ings, and – in one par­tic­u­larly dra­matic case – a sit-in re­sult­ing in dozens of ar­rests.

Largely thanks to the ef­forts of these local ac­tivists, some of whom also had ties to the Mcgill com­mu­nity, most of Mil­ton-parc was saved. All that re­mains of Con­cor­dia Es­tates’ devel­op­ment plans are the in­ter­con­nected apart­ment com­plexes at the corner of Parc and Prince Arthur. The mo­men­tum of the 1960s and ‘70s didn’t end there. By the late ‘80s, much of the neigh­bour­hood had been re­or­ga­nized into a se­ries of hous­ing co-ops, heav­ily sub­si­dized by the gov­ern­ment in or­der to keep rent ac­ces­si­ble to low-in­come res­i­dents. To­day, Mil­tonParc is home to one of the largest net­works of co­op­er­a­tive hous­ing in North Amer­ica.

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