Johnny we hardly knew ye

For decades, Sir John A. Macdonald, our founding prime minister, was revered. He’d cobbled together a national government of diverse interests and peoples, built a transcontinental railway and had an uproarious character that involved a tad too much to drink. Today he is vilified, his own words flung back in his face.

What happened? Why, the politically correct found him wanting. In 1883, he said in the House of Commons that native children should be taken from their savage parents and taught white ways. At the time, few held different beliefs. Looking back, it’s easy to point a finger and preen. Yet the first thing historians will tell you is not to force modern-day values on matters of the past.

Imagine even fifty years from now when the people of that time, facing rising sea waters and no birds left alive to sing, ask, “Why couldn’t Donald Trump or Doug Ford see that climate change would end up this way? Why didn’t they do something?” Because they thought they were right and enough short-sighted people agreed. Meanwhile, the City of Victoria has removed Macdonald’s statue from the city hall steps. At Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., a bench bearing Sir John’s name and a portrait have already been whisked away. His name may also be coming off the faculty of law building.

The irony couldn’t be more obvious. The very names Victoria and Queen’s reek of colonialism and conquest. Will either follow their action against Sir John with name changes for themselves? I somehow doubt it. It’s so much easier to criticize another than see the complicity of your own situation. Meanwhile, a bust of Sir John sits on the desk where I write. I’m waiting for the purity police to come knocking on my door.

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