A man who sought to prevent Jewish people from ever buying his land should lose the honour of having a street and park named after him, a Jewish advocacy group said Tuesday in a public call to the city of St-Jean-sur-Richelieu.
About 40 kilometres south of Montreal, on a small residential island in the Richelieu River, is Waegener Street. At the end of that road is Waegener Park. Both are named after Alphonse Waegener, who tried in the 1960s to prevent Jews from ever acquiring the titles to the land he owned on that island.
It was recently revealed in Quebec Superior Court that Waegener had registered a real estate covenant decades ago, stating the “purchaser and his representatives” of the land, “may not dispose of or rent the said lot to persons of the Jewish race.”
A judge revoked those conditions in November after they were brought to the court’s attention by a notary, who discovered them in the course of his work for a client who had sold land subject to Waegener’s covenant.
Montreal’s La Presse first reported the story Tuesday. David Ouellette, with the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said in an interview that when his organization read what Waegener’s 99-year-old son had told the news organization, CIJA felt it had to speak out.
The La Presse article quoted Louis Waegener, who said “my father got along with everyone. But you see, the Jews, they become owners a little bit everywhere. That’s what he didn’t like. He had Jewish friends, he just didn’t want there to be any trouble with the Canadians.”
Ouellette said he and the rest of his colleagues at CIJA were “dumbfounded” by Louis Waegener’s words, which they felt tried to justify the covenant “by saying that Jews take over everything.”
The Canadian Press’s attempts to contact Waegener’s son, Louis, were not successful.
CIJA is now calling on the city to “do the right thing and commit to renaming the street and the park bearing the Waegener name,” according to a news release sent out by the group Tuesday afternoon.
St-Jean-sur-Richelieu Mayor Alain Laplante said his city will “study and seriously review the suggestion” by CIJA to rename the street and park.
In an interview Tuesday, Laplante said it was common in generations past for streets and parks in his city to be named after the owners of adjacent land — not necessarily as a celebration of the owner’s values.
He said he learned of the existence of the illegal, discriminatory covenants earlier in the day and that he had personally never heard of Alphonse Waegener. Laplante said instead of making any “hasty” decisions, his city prefers to consult with citizens who would be affected by the name change.
“The park is less serious,” he said. “But when you have to change a civic address, business cards, make other changes with Canada Post … there are repercussions on citizens, so we would like to consult them and then make a decision on the demand to change the name.”
Alphonse Waegener’s 1960s real estate covenants were likely already illegal when he had them registered. A 1950 Supreme Court of Canada ruling had struck down a covenant drawn in 1933 that stated certain lands in Ontario should never be sold to Jews or people of colour.
Ouellette said it was not uncommon in the 1950s and earlier to find discriminatory covenants restricting land sales members of certain ethnic or religious groups.
He said he appreciated the notary’s decision in the Waegener covenant case to speak out and right a wrong.
“I think that’s the most important part of the story,” Ouellette said. “It had come into the hands of a notary, who couldn’t let this slide by. He saw this and said it couldn’t stay on the books.”