In the years leading up to The War of 1812’s bicentennial, I became more and more agitated with the rhetoric that surrounded it, and how it was being used by the Canadian government as nationalistic claptrap. More specifically, I was annoyed at how the War of 1812 was being portrayed as part of Canada’s history, when Canada did not exist as a nation for another 55 years. Yes, the War of 1812 was important as one of many catalysts that would eventually lead to Canada’s Confederation, but no, there wasn’t an idea of a unified nation at that point.
Similarly, in the period leading up to 2015 there has been a significant focus on the 200th birthday of Sir John A. McDonald. I remember learning in grade ten history (incidentally the course is called CHC2D: Canadian History Since World War I, so I’m not sure why Confederation was mentioned at all to begin with) that Sir JAM was an alcoholic, but not understanding why that should belong part and parcel with Canada’s “founding” narrative (I still don’t, to be honest). Indeed, the Government of Canada has commented on Sir JAM’s alcohol dependency, stating,
Many Canadians seem willing to overlook, if not excuse, Macdonald’s drinking problem, viewing it as a human failing in a man weighted down by human tragedy. “I kind of like the idea that the father of our Confederation wasn’t the guy who couldn’t tell a lie; he was the guy who liked to drink,” Canadian journalist and author Pierre Berton once told CBC television.
Ha ha ha, it’s totally awesome that the guy who was Prime Minister for about eighteen years had an illness where alcohol was both a symptom and a coping mechanism, LOL. That is not funny, it is not charming, it is not something to be proud of, Canada. Alcoholism is a serious illness and no laughing matter.
Consequently, how come Sir JAM’s alcoholism is dismissed as a tragic character flaw, when racialized persons–especially Indigenous peoples–have alcoholism they are vilified? Quite the double standard we seem to have imposed, when the intergenerational trauma that resulted from residential schools has a strong correlation with alcohol and other substance abuse conditions. Why isn’t anyone in Heritage Canada talking about that?
As an undergraduate student, I learned of Sir JAM’s support of residential schools and the Indian Act. This, of course, was not covered in my grade ten history course because the creation of residential schools and the development of the Indian Act occurred prior to World War I. Hypothetically both could be part of the grade seven and/or eight history curricula, but if they are at all–I have no recollection of either–I am certain they would be relegated to a short paragraph in the text book. Indigenous histories are an add-on to Canadian curricula, not something to be considered along side it.
Let me get this straight: we are supposed to be celebrating the fact that the “founding father” of Canada was a colonialist, a racist, and an alcoholic.
Yeah, no. I’m definitely not throwing any confetti for Sir JAM tomorrow.
With the 150’s anniversary of Confederation occurring in 2017, Heritage Canada has been producing commercials that tell
the their story of the details surrounding Confederation. I found one segment of the commercial particularly ironic. The narrator states,
If only they could see the amazing country they created. It’s people and their extraordinary accomplishments. How would they feel? Looking at a country so strong, proud, and free, they would be filled with pride.
Are you joking, narrator? Do you not know the historical context that surrounded Confederation at all?
The “Founding Fathers” would be flat-out appalled that
- Indigenous peoples are still alive, and
- A decline in the birth rates of people from European ethnicities resulted in the emigration of peoples from “less desirable” regions like “the Orient” and “the dark continent of Africa” (to use the problematic, essentializing terms of the day).
I really want the Canadian and provincial/territorial governments to stop promoting Canada as a post-racial society: it has never been post-racial. Race, racism and racialization are significant components to our nation’s founding and present-day narratives. They will not go away because you make a wish on a bunch of candles.