MONTREAL — Following years of public calls to honour one of the most important musicians to come from Montreal, the city announced on Tuesday it will name a downtown plaza after the late jazz legend Oscar Peterson.
The large public square will be created during the reconstruction of McGill College Avenue, Mayor Valérie Plante said, adding that the plaza will include a statue of Peterson and other art installations celebrating his life and work.
“For more than 60 years, Oscar Peterson played around the world, he was an inspiration to generations of Montreal musicians,” Plante told reporters. “Although he achieved worldwide fame, Oscar Peterson remained very attached to Montreal and composed many pieces about his home city, including ‘Place St. Henri,’ which is one of his classics.”
Peterson’s widow, Kelly Peterson, said Montreal was important to her late husband.
“The city didn’t give him his talent, of course, but its influences shaped him throughout his life,” she said. “He was so very proud to have been born in Montreal, to have grown up in Montreal, to come back in to play the (jazz) festival.”
She described the tribute as “overwhelming” and said her husband would have felt the same.
“He would be overwhelmed, he never ever expected to receive the honours he received during his lifetime and every single one meant a great deal to him,” she said in an interview. “I think he would especially be thinking of his mother and father and think how they would never have imagined that their young son would someday have this central part of the city named for him.”
She said she hopes the plaza will not just be a tribute to Peterson but also a place where people discover his work for the first time.
There have been numerous calls in Montreal for greater public commemoration of the eight-time Grammy winner, who was born in the city in 1925.
In 2020, an unsuccessful petition to rename the Lionel-Groulx metro station after Peterson, who grew up in the nearby Little Burgundy neighbourhood, garnered more than 25,000 signatures.
Naveed Hussain, the creator of that petition, said he was pleased with the decision to name the new plaza after Peterson.
“It’s a huge win,” Hussain said in an interview. “I think having this in the heart of the city, where the hustle and bustle is alive, and there’s so many connections to Oscar Peterson, it just makes sense. I’m really, really happy with it.
“It took a lot of voices, it took a community, it took debate to get to this point, but the decision, I think, is great.”
While many of Montreal’s jazz clubs were located in Little Burgundy, Peterson began a residency in 1947 at the Alberta Lounge, in the city’s downtown, which helped him achieve international fame.
It was during a 1949 performance at the lounge — broadcast live on local radio — that American jazz promoter Norman Granz first heard Peterson play. Granz, who helped introduce Peterson to audiences in the United States, would become Peterson’s manager.
Work on the square is expected to start in 2023, after a light rail station in the area is completed. Plante said she hopes it will be finished in time for the 100th anniversary of Peterson’s birth.
Peterson died in 2007 in Mississauga, Ont., after a 60-year career as a jazz pianist.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 31, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press