Wednesday, December 15, 2010

History and patriotism

In my home province, a school principal was forced to resign. He had done something terrible. He had stopped he practice of beginning the school day with the playing of the national anthem. Parents were furious. The Minister of Education rode forth, lance in hand to slay the dragon and make it mandatory for the national anthem to be played every day in every school. So, across the province, students must stand to listen in a sort of embarassment to scratchy sounds coming faintly over intercoms designed for things nobody listens to - like school announcements.
It's a dreadful experience, particularly because "O Canada" is one of those anthems that needs all the help it can get, rather like the way Scottish haggis really needs ketchup. But, according to the minister, the children must hear it every day - to become patriotic. I was a history teacher; and when I heard the minister say that,  I thought, "well, there goes history out of the curriculum."

I mean, it would really damage patriotism if I were to say that all the way back to the 1600s Canadians made slaves out of both native peoples and Africans; and in such brutal conditions that few lived beyond their twenties. I've probably also have to skip that part about how the New Brunswickers of 1850 would commonly, virtually all of them, spend much of a  Sunday smashed out of their minds on cheap rum from the West Indies. Over a hundred proof.  Children joined in. Even babies were given enough to keep them happy.

The first Prime Minister of Canada was an alcoholic scoundrel who acted as a front man for bank and raliway barons. He gave the latter millions of acres of land, including rich mines that are still in production. While he was in office, he also happily sat as a well-paid director of companies that he helped out with governments giveaways.

Abortion was once widely accepted in the most dignified social circles in Canada.  At your local library, check out an 1880's copy of The Globe. Find a page dedicated to medecine ads. You'll be one that looks like an ad for a cure for constipation. But the label says "For Female Irregularity". Well, I mean...I know we're different in some places. but I don't think that is one of them.

In fact, the label was in a well understood code for abortion. (I have no idea whether the stuff worked. But it sold well to the middle classes - which suggests even the most respectable ladies didn't spend all their time hiding their ankles and fluttering Chinese fans.)

Americans are often looked down on by Canadians because we didn't murder nearly so many of our native people as the US did. But that had nothing of kindness in it. We didn't settle the west in any numbers until US and Canadian hunters had made the buffalo almost extinct. As a result,we didn't have to resort to mass murder. We had starvation doing our work for us.

American history is a big a crock as much Canadian history. Maybe bigger. George Washington was an enormously wealthy man who wanted to be wealthier. That's what the revolution was about. It had nothing to do with people being born equal. Washington was one of the biggest slave owners, and as brutal as any.  At no point in its history has the US been a nation of equals. Quite apart from discrimination against Africans,Japanese immigrants (a discrimination as brutal as that in Canada), Jews, Irish and many others, the poor and the middle class have never in any sense been equal to the rich. In general, Americans were arguably freer and more tolerant BEFORE 1776.

Abraham Lincoln was entirely opposed to allowing "freed" slaves to have any rights at all.

Oh, yeah. Davey Crockett was a slave trader,and ruthless land speculator.

But Americans are ahead of us Canadians in at least one respect. They're allowed to cover the dreadfulness of both tune and words of The Star Spangled Banner by letting second rate performers sing it in kinky style. Us Canadians have to listen to O Canada on intercom systems while we stand around avoiding eye contact our of sheer embarassment.


  1. Just catching up on your Articles, Graeme. Another Gem,in MHO.

  2. last night, I attended a school gathering that opened with O Canada on a sound system so bad, it took me a while to realize it was O Canada.

    Everybody stood. Nobody sang or looked at anybody else. But it worked. I'm sure we all left feeling culturally and patrioically enriched.