We are, for good or bad — people with a past.
There is no escaping this fact, erasing it from living memory, or rewriting our history books.
It’s not that simple.
No morality police squad, cancel culture club or “me too” tag team can change the fact that many men in history, who we now vilify for all sorts of reasons, were once held in high esteem.
Powerful and influential, these men did things, said things, and steadfastly ascribed to beliefs not tolerated in today’s society. To wit: John A. Macdonald, founder of Confederation — and architect of residential schools.
Like a disgraced general, stripped of rank and ribbons, a statue of Macdonald was removed from its footings at City Hall, Victoria, in 2018. Last year, his likeness was trashed in Montreal, toppled by protest groups, its head decapitated.
Then, in an ironically, nostalgic nod to the old adage, “Judge not, lest ye be judged,” the past came back to haunt Justice Matthew Begbie.
In New Westminster, a bronze statue of Begbie, located beside the courthouse, was removed. It was voted down, literally, by city council in May 2019, following public outcry.
At issue, was the fact that Judge Begbie had presided over a trial in 1864 which led to the wrongful hanging of five Tsilhqot’in First Nation chiefs. The statue’s removal is viewed by many as a small step towards reconciliation.
So posthumously, these two men have fallen from grace, and, in absentia, have been found guilty of crimes. Not by a 12-person jury of their peers, but by a new and enlightened generation.
I fear this modern day reckoning can be risky. In the just and noble move to make things right, the pendulum must not be allowed to swing too far, or the clock will stop.
More and more, I see once very fair, thoughtful, “go to” people turning into morality muppets and potty mouthed “posting pundits” — those who go online, on the attack, with their rude comments and damning opinions on just about everyone.
What is happening to us?
I disagree with quasi grave robbers who disturb the rest of our long dead forefathers and subject them, after the fact, as if in effigy, to vile acts of vandalism, grotesque graffiti and smears of red paint. What good does that do?
I wonder if there might be a better way to dispense with unwanted public place statues, portraits and monuments of history’s men who, on revision, are deemed unworthy of tributes.
Rather than defacing and destroying lifeless statues, why not have a museum of misfits?
All the replicas of shamed, displaced and disgraced former leaders, statesmen, historical figures and influencers (the list grows longer) could be housed together.
They could be on display in a grant-funded building in Ottawa, open to the public (during regular visiting hours) as a learning exhibit, with scholarly explanation of why they’re included.
There is support for such a notion.
A June, 2020 CTV News story suggests that some art historians think there’s a place for statues, monuments of famous (but flawed) luminaries, such as a museum serving as a teaching tool for this and future generations.
In my view, this is a very good idea.
And to this museum for misfits, I would add a non-lending library annex for all those banned, challenged, offending, and politically incorrect books for all ages.
In the adult section, there would be titles like Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Brave New World, Lolita, Ulysses, and Satanic Verses.
The children’s section would include The Giver, The Wonderful World of Oz, Are You There, God? and titles from Harry Potter, Babar the Elephant, along with new ones added to Hop in Pop and The Lorax from beleaguered Dr. Seuss’ books.
Six in total. Titles no longer to be published, according to press releases this week, include The Cat’s Quizzer, If I Ran the Zoo and Scrambled Eggs; books that publishers have said contain “racist and insensitive imagery,”
As an early reader, and inhaler of many books, how I made it to adulthood remains a mystery, even to me. Maybe a time capsule will help.
Teresa Mallam is an award winning writer. Her credits include a Jack Webster Award of Distinction, BC Law Society Award for Excellence in Legal Reporting and Canadian Authors Association (CAA) award for Best Investigative Journalism, as well as several Black Press media awards for her columns, court coverage and news features.