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Visiting Dorval, Quebec: What's in a Name? Reflections on the Past and the Future

Updated on May 22, 2020
Flag of Quebec
Flag of Quebec | Source
Oratoire St-Joseph and Westmount (Mont Royal) from Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport
Oratoire St-Joseph and Westmount (Mont Royal) from Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport | Source
Aerial view of Dorval during a flight between YUL and CDG.
Aerial view of Dorval during a flight between YUL and CDG. | Source

Interpreting the past and varying aspirations for the future.

[This visit took place a number of months ago.]

So what does Dorval make you think of?

Does it make you think of Belgium?

Historically, at least, the abbaye d'Orval in what is now Belgium is what the name of this Quebec town on the Île de Montréal / Montreal Island refers to — at least indirectly, through the family name of local, landowner Jean-Baptiste Bouchard d'Orval , who lived centuries ago.

Dorval also refers to a municipality relatively untypical in Quebec, where the proportion of English-speakers is ostensibly greater than its Francophone population — even though this, too, is substantial (1).

To somewhat older Canadians, 'Dorval' also refers to Quebec's largest airport, since 2004 known officially as Aéroport International Montréal-Trudeau / Montréal–Trudeau International Airport (to IATA, known as YUL), in reference to long-serving Prime Minister of Canada Pierre Elliott Trudeau (1919-2000)(2) for whom Montreal was his home city. In fact, even today, 'Dorval' is what local people will sometimes call this large facility. (By passenger numbers, the size of the airport may be judged by the 20.3 million passengers which used the facility in 2019.) I have supplied a photo (above), taken at Aéroport International Montréal-Trudeau / Montréal–Trudeau International Airport, showing the proximity of the Oratoire St-Joseph / St. Joseph's Oratory and Mont Royal / Mount Royal.

During World War Two, the airport at Dorval was created ex-nihilo in 1941 and its three runways rapidly became Canada's largest airfield, substantially because of its vital role in Transatlantic travel. ARC / RCAF Station Lachine also used the site until 1959.

Several years ago, the capacity of what is now Montreal-Trudeau was expanded to receive the giant Airbus A380, which for some years was the aircraft type used by Air France for its Paris-Montreal route, although for load factor reasons this type was withdrawn in 2012.

While the airport is now named for a major, distinguished historical figure — likely to remain a household name among Canadians for many years to come — the adjacent VIA rail station continues to be known simply as Dorval. (A rapid transit link from the airport to Downtown Montreal is currently being planned.)

Given that Pierre Elliott Trudeau was strongly identified with Federalist views, one may reasonably assume also that a desire to reinforce a perception of Federalism contributed to the decision to name the airport for him. One may also recall, however, that in 1995 Quebec came within almost a hairsbreadth of becoming independent following a hotly contested referendum.

The memory of this event, coupled with at least the mere hypothesis of any future, successful independence referendum, does reasonably beg the question of how the airport would be named in an independent Quebec. Could it be that the name Dorval would re-emerge officially in such circumstances? (The naming of Cape Canaveral — renamed Cape Kennedy — renamed Cape Canaveral — comes at least obliquely to mind.)

Even with no sense of inevitability whatsoever, the interface of such historical memories and hypothetical future projections can be rather complex.

One does not have to have any personal stake in outcomes whatsoever to be able to acknowledge that, to Quebec sovereigntists, the naming of the airport in Dorval for Pierre Elliott Trudeau has been a tool in the perception management of the role of Federalism. Similarly (see also Note 1, below) when people refer to some municipalities in Quebec as having an Anglophone majority — which, however, in terms of terms of legal schooling rights does not always paint the same picture — can itself also be regarded as a tool in perception management (3).

Truly the sky is the limit in the criss-crossing contrails of such arguments and counter arguments about the naming of the airport at — and language rights in — a place such as Dorval.

May 22, 2020


(1) In Quebec, Anglophone legal residents, as distinct from native Anglophone people, do not have the same schooling rights for their children. This means that the perception of a municipality as being 'mainly English-speaking' may be rather more nuanced that it may at first appear.

(2) Pierre Elliott Trudeau served as Prime Minister of Canada from 1968 until 1979 and from 1980 until 1984.

(3) Similarly, the locating at Montreal of the headquarters — and, subsequently, to Dorval of maintenance facilities — of Air Canada (formerly Trans-Canada Airlines, previously based at Winnipeg, Manitoba) under Federal instigation, may also be regarded at least partly in a similar light. Even the name 'Air Canada' is a case in point: originally, 'Air Canada' was used as the French equivalent of 'Trans-Canada Airlines'; in time, a Federal bill introduced in 1964 by Jean Chrétien (later Prime Minister of Canada) gave the French translation the momentum for it to be applied as the English form also.

Some sourcing: Wikipedia

Dorval Station (AMT and VIA), Québec.
Dorval Station (AMT and VIA), Québec. | Source

Also worth seeing

In Dorval itself, the spire of the Eglise de la Présentation, dating from 1900, dominates the local horizon; the City's Museum is situated at 1850 Lakeshore Drive; known as the Dorval Museum of Local History and Heritage, it is housed in a heritage property — a former coach house — dating from 1874 and originally belonging to Alfred S. Brown. (See also: ; contact: email, ; tel., 514 633-4314.) In 2016 an exhibition about Dorval's history was held.

The architectural and cultural attractions of neighbouring Montreal are too numerous to mention here, but of special note, among many others, are the domed Bonsecours Market (Marché Bonsecours), dating from 1847, which was a venue used to house the Parliament of United Canada, prior to Confederation. The Notre-Dame Basilica (Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal) was built mainly between 1824 and 1829; many Montrealers attend annual performances of Handel's 'Messiah' there. The Olympic Stadium (Stade Olympique) in the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve district, used for the 1976 Olympics, has the the world's tallest inclined tower, at 175 metres.

Mont-Tremblant (distance: 133 kilometres), in the Laurentian Mountains (Laurentides) is ideal for scenic excursions, golf and skiing; its boutiques attract many shoppers.


How to get there: Air Canada flies to Montreal (Aéroport international Pierre-Elliott-Trudeau de Montréal ) from Toronto-Pearson, and from New York-Newark and New York-La Guardia, with wide connections. A number of car rental companies offer service at Montreal-Trudeau airport. VIA Rail maintains regular services with Toronto and Windsor. You are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

Map of Dorval on the Isle of Montreal
Map of Dorval on the Isle of Montreal | Source

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