Canada's 150th birthday celebrations has raised the ire of a number of people, but most especially (it seems) with the First Nations people of this land. The land was inhabited for a millennia before the people from across the pond came to claim the land as their own. Canada became a nation and the white man's country by confiscating land and removing indigenous people who stood in the way. Victory at all costs.
Success in business comes at the cost of another. Two coffee shops in one block doesn't increase the number of coffee drinkers but spreads the consumer dollar over two locations. This concept includes the business of increasing the landholding of a nation. In the case of the formation of Canada, the First Nations already surviving on the land needed to move over and make room. By choice or by force. According to history, more often than not it was by force. Sadly, to some degree that dominance over the First Nations people seems to be continuing today.
Canada became a country at the expense of the First Nations people. But the country I call Canada, still and always did include First Nations people. Maybe it was always a nation and we are celebrating the 150th anniversary of its official naming rather than its' birthday?
In Halifax, Nova Scotia, there is a sense of anger and frustration boiling under the surface and waiting to erupt on the streets and especially in the parks. And the topic of frustration is not just the sesquicentennial celebrations but a specific individual, Edward Cornwallis.
|A symbolically removed Cornwallis statue|
at Halifax park on 7.15-17 : my photo
I thought it would be wise to educate myself and what I found was enlightening. People questioned why a biography was never written about Edward Cornwallis if he was such a significant character in the building of a nation if not the founding of the biggest city on the Eastern seaboard. Well, it turns out that it would not be a flattering read.
The consensus in all that I researched seemed to indicate that prior being sent to establish a British colony in what is now known as Nova Scotia, Cornwallis was little more than a privileged brat. He had served in several previous positions, which he seems to have been awarded due to his rich, very influential and titled family not his ability or past performance within the military.
As a commander, Cornwallis was probably responsible for more fatalities of white army men overseas than the number of Natives and Acadians in Nova Scotia (that number is actually unknown however). 400 British soldiers under the command of Cornwallis lost their lives in one battle alone. He resigned another command before the troops declared mutiny against him. For his military failures he was court-martialed (twice) but was able to defend and save himself but not his reputation in the court of public opinion. His comrade-in-arms Admiral John Byng was not so lucky and was executed. Hardly a war hero.
Upon arriving in Nova Scotia, Cornwallis decided to establish the colony he was sent to found on what was then Mi'kmaq hunting ground (now Halifax). He was ordered to make peace with the French and the Natives when taking over their land and engage them in a mutually beneficial trade proposal. Cornwallis chose not to, instead he threatened war if they didn't comply with his extradition of their lands. And the natives chose to fight.
The Mi'kmaq scalped first. This is true. It is also true that Cornwallis issued a bounty for the scalp of each native man, woman or child killed by the settlers. The settlers didn't scramble to profit from this bounty and Cornwallis was forced to increase the monetary prize.
Edward Cornwallis came to the new world as a governor in the spring of 1749 and left in the fall of 1752, some 26 months later. I think there are probably many other people who did more to establish the city of Halifax than Cornwallis did. Maybe he is getting far more credit with monuments and references to his name to maintain his legacy than his legacy is worth?
I think he was generally a failed military man who pouted when his settlement of the province and city of Halifax failed and he left before the entire project imploded, leaving others behind to pick up the pieces and make Halifax a proud city.
But should his statue come down from the park which bears his name? The short answer is no.
The long answer is that the name of the park should be changed. Some suggestions at the recent protest included "The Halifax Peace and Freedom Park". I like that. The statue itself needs some revisions. A plaque added that includes information about all of history. The good and the bad.
The fact that the statue is there has opened a dialogue that may have been tucked away in the memory of past generations, with the truth forgotten. Personally, I would have never considered researching the man, he was known as a the founder of the city and nothing more.
When people go to the park, it would be nice if they could look at the statue and learn why he stands there and why he shouldn't stand there. There isn't enough education about the First Nations struggles in the school system, let's make this a teaching lesson.
If we are going to erase all the controversial figures from our history, we will not have a history. Even Sir John A. MacDonald referred to First Nations people as savages. Sir Wilfrid Laurier, raised the Chinese head tax from $50 to $500 to dissuade the immigration of Asians. (The tax was banned in 1923 but immigration wasn't permitted until 1947.) Canada was a country and women were not considered persons until October 18, 1929. And it took even longer for the LGBT community to stop being persecuted and punished for their choices.
And we all still fight for equality. Because there are always things we can improve upon.
I guess my point is that rather than pretend the bad stuff didn't happen we should try to learn from it to make our world a better place. I will never have much respect for Cornwallis, but like other distasteful figures in our planets history I want to find a way to remember and mourn but never forget.