December 16, 2011

Henri's dream and the freeway

Every day, tens of thousands of motorists in Quebec City take the "Henri IV."

That's the major autoroute (freeway) that starts from the bridges spanning the St. Lawrence River then cuts northward across the city some 10 miles and ends at the gates to the sprawling Canadian Forces Garrison Valcartier.

Quebecers perhaps being more up on their history than other North Americans, many of those motorists might know a bit about this Henri IV. The basics are that Henri was the king of France who made it possible for Samuel de Champlain to establish la nouvelle France and open up North America to European exploration and settlement.

Chances are people would have continued to give Henri IV scant notice were it not for the recent controversy over a proposal to rename Autoroute Henri IV.

Suddenly, 401 years after he died — assassinated by a religious fanatic, as was the fashion back then — this remarkable king, the last Henri and the first Bourbon, is back in the spotlight.

A member of Quebec's National Assembly, Gerard Deltell, has been lobbying since 2009 for the Henri IV to be changed to the Autoroute de la Bravoure (Freeway of Bravery) as a tribute to the soldiers from the Valcartier garrison who risked or sacrificed their lives in Afghanistan. The garrison happens to be in Deltell's constituency.

The renamed highway would be the Quebec equivalent of a stretch of the largest freeway in Ontario, which leads to a major army base. Crowds would gather on overpasses when a convoy passed transporting the patriated bodies of soldiers who died back in Afghanistan.

In 2007, the Ontario government designated the section of the freeway the Highway of Heroes, although the artery in its entirety is still called the Macdonald-Cartier Freeway.

Deltell says the Autoroute de la Bravoure would be a constant and perpetual reminder to motorists of the price paid by Canada's military in the cause of freedom.

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