What’s past is prologue

The advertising sign on the bus shelter was like a punch in the nose. “A name to match our history,” said the line at the top. In the middle was a bottle of Coors beer and, at the bottom, a line saying “Now called Original.” Imagine the hours of Zoom meetings it took for some ad agency to come up with that brilliant, new moniker – “Original.”

But that wasn’t what bothered me. Was the word “our” about the history of Canada, the history of Coors, or a presumptive both? And what was an American beer doing there anyway? Of course, all the major Canadian breweries have long since become foreign-dominated. Labatt was bought by Belgium’s InBev, Molson merged with Coors, even little Sleeman was taken over by Sapporo. Similar hollowing-out has occurred in Canadian mining (Inco and Falconbridge), steel (Dofasco and Stelco), and hotels (Fairmont and Four Seasons).

In some cases, the reason was globalization, in others, poor management. In his excellent new book on Labatt, Brewed in the North, Matthew J. Bellamy points out that none of the Canadian brewers developed a popular international brand (such as Heineken, Corona, or Stella). Instead, they all just buckled under to entreaties by outsiders.

In this era when Canadian history is being vilified, with statues of Sir John A. Macdonald a particular target, how long will it take before other great figures from our past fall to equal mindlessness. Parliament Hill is dotted with statues about whom the rabble-rousers could probably find some complaint. Statues in Montreal, Halifax and Vancouver have already come under fire. Who’s next? The Champlain monument in Québec City? Louis Riel in Winnipeg? Evangeline in Grand-Pré, Nova Scotia?

Besmirch them with paint or pull them down with ropes and soon we’ll be left with nothing connoting “our history” except for tag lines from foreign firms. What sort of a future can you possibly have without a past upon which to build?

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