Please, Don’t remind me…

I have always been confused by Canadians’ apparent dislike for their own history, but I never fully appreciated until today just how deep this aversion runs. 

In an article entitled “A lesson in respect” published in today’s Toronto Sun, Sheila Copps points out a major difference between Canada and the U.S. in regard to respect for our leaders. As you are likely aware, U.S. presidents establish a library at the end of their terms that contains memoirs, papers, correspondence etc. that define their term in office. In Canada however, no such libraries exist; in fact, we don’t even have a single library for all their papers. Not only that but we have even squashed every attempt to create one. I’ll quote Ms. Copps….

Two attempts to establish the Canadian equivalent of a presidential library have failed. The first, at the newly minted Canadian Museum of Civilization, was quashed more than two decades ago when cost overruns terminated the project in the planning stages. Prime Minister Paul Martin recently killed the second, a proposed Canadian history museum, because the project was too closely associated to his former boss. Neither decision was surprising. Canadians are averse to hero worship and even more leery about positive political histories.

Why is this? Can anyone out there explain to me why it is that we are so indifferent to our own history in this country? Especially when so much time and effort is spent agonizing over just what it is to be a Canadian? National identity is born out of a nation’s history. Canada is the country it is today because of what has happened in our past, especially in the political arena. We are who we are because of the actions of people like Douglas, Deifenbaker, Trudeau and Pearson, and yes, even the likes of Mulroney, Turner, Clark and Campbell.

Every Prime Minister, regardless of political affiliation, has contributed in some way to making Canada the country so many people around the world want to call home. These contributions deserve to be chronicled and remembered. The inside story as to how and why decisions were made, both good and bad, are important if we are to learn the lessons the past has to teach us. And yet, because we seem to consider politicians unworthy of remembering, for any reason, we will instead condemn future generations to fighting the same battles over and over again.

So great is our disregard for the people who have led this great country, it took an act of parliament under the authority of Parks Canada to ensure that weeds do not over grow the graves of former Prime Ministers. Apparently we aren’t even willing to mow the grass to afford them some small measure of dignity.

Once again, I have to ask the question, Why? Earlier I referred to our attitude toward history as indifference; that might not be quite right. We recoil from our history so intensely I wonder if we aren’t in some measure ashamed of it. Like an embarrassed twenty-something we would rather people didn’t mention the things we did when we were teenagers. Our current attitudes and preferences are so different from what they once were we can’t believe, and don’t want to admit, we ever held to any other philosophy.

And maybe that’s the problem. Maybe when it comes to the community of nations we are still just a twenty-something. After all, while other nations have been around for hundreds, even thousands of years, Canada is a mere 140 years old. As nations go, we’re still a teenager, maybe even adolescent. Maybe, like most teenagers, we can’t think beyond the next big date, what parties will we be invited to, or which nation is paying attention to us this week. Maybe, like most teenagers, we won’t care about what really matters in life until we’ve grown up a little bit.

So, let me play the role of parent and say — Pay attention to your history Canada. Like older relatives, one day you’ll appreciate the wisdom of those who once led this country. I know it doesn’t make sense to you right now, but trust me, you’ll understand when you get older!


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