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A statue of Sir John Colborne is pictured in Toronto on Jan. 22, 2014. The name of Sir John Colborne will be removed from a street and park in the town of Chambly, Que.Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Villain to some, valiant to others, a British military officer is being erased from the map in a Quebec town because of his role in suppressing a French-Canadian rebellion 180 years ago.

The name of Sir John Colborne will be removed from a street and park in the town of Chambly near Montreal for his actions in quelling an uprising in the 19th century. The mayor of Chambly likened it to having a street named for Hitler in Israel, according to a local media report.

Colborne is regarded by historians as an able British commander, but he is mostly remembered in Quebec for quashing a revolt by the Patriotes. One conflict killed about 70 rebels, and his soldiers went on afterward to burn down homes in the countryside.

The behaviour became a symbol of ruthlessness and led to the decision to remove Colborne’s name from Chambly’s landscape.

Citing Colborne’s “merciless war practices,” city hall announced that “the municipality no longer wishes to showcase this name on its territory and is withdrawing it.”

The move has angered the local historical society, which sees it as an attempt to whitewash history.

“[Colborne] doesn’t have a good image in French Canada. But plenty of historical figures have faults, or stains on their CVs. That’s no reason to remove them from history,” society president Paul-Henri Hudon said on Monday. “It’s ethnic cleansing. It’s a form of resentment in which the Patriotes were victims and all those who fought them were bad.”

Chambly itself was named for French army officer Captain Jacques de Chambly, who was “sent by the French Crown to exterminate the Iroquois,” Mr. Hudon said.

“Who is more guilty? Colborne or Chambly?” Mr. Hudon asked in an interview. “If we start removing the names of everyone with blood on their hands, we’re going to be removing a lot of people.”

In fact, Colborne is really just collateral damage in another name-change controversy in Chambly, a riverside town east of Montreal whose canal and fort are federally designated national historic sites. The town council decided to change Ostiguy Street, named for a former mayor, to Petrozza Street, after a late restaurateur. It needed to find a new place to commemorate Joseph Ostiguy, and Colborne got the boot.

The process angered residents, who say they were not consulted, and citizens plan to present a 2,400-name petition to council on Tuesday calling on its members to reverse themselves. While the Ostiguy/Petrozza switch is what has stirred public opinion, some citizens are coming to the defence of Colborne at the same time.

“I’m no admirer of Colborne, but it’s history,” said Jean-Patrice Martel, who lives on Colborne Street and collected some of the petition signatures.

Mr. Martel, former president of the Society for International Hockey Research, says that while he initially was unsure he wanted to preserve Colborne’s name, he has come around to the idea. “When we created Colborne Street in Chambly it wasn’t to glorify the military actions he conducted against the Patriotes,” he said.

Mayor Denis Lavoie could not be reached on Monday, and town offices were closed for Easter Monday. However, Mr. Lavoie has defended his decision.

“It’s not my role to judge Colborne, but I know that there’s no Adolf Hitler [St.] in Israel,” Mr. Lavoie said, according to Le Journal de Chambly.

The decision in the municipality of 29,000 has already received the blessing of Quebec’s place-names commission. On its website, Colborne has already been replaced by Mr. Ostiguy, which leaves no places in the province recalling the former British officer.

Colborne, remembered in place names outside Quebec, was lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada and briefly acted as governor-general.

Noted Canadian military historian Desmond Morton says Colborne was “very much admired as a dependable, sensible commander. He was a highly respected officer in his time.”

Mr. Morton, a retired professor at McGill University in Montreal, says it’s inevitable that “anyone who does their duty as a soldier may offend somebody.”

“French Canadians were in a state of rebellion. Colonels are encouraged not to support rebellions,” Mr. Morton said.

Colborne is not the first British military officer to be targeted for a name change. In Montreal, former mayor Denis Coderre said last year that he wanted to remove the name of Jeffery Amherst from a central street because of the general’s role in advocating germ warfare against aboriginal peoples in the 18th century.

Mr. Morton said he opposes name changes on streets, because they amount to “punishment without trial.”

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