Montréal, 30 septembre 2000  /  No 68
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Ralph Maddocks is a retired textile executive and former management consultant. He lives in Cowansville.
by Ralph Maddocks
          George Santayana, the Spanish-American poet and philosopher, was perhaps more right than he knew. An article in the Globe and Mail the other day was bemoaning the lack of historical studies in many provinces of Canada. Although I had been dimly aware of this from my own experiences in the past, I found the described extent of this deficiency quite simply appalling. It suggested one possible reason that may explain why there is a problem of identification among Canadians.
Must we forget 
          The article was quoting a joint study by the newspaper and the Dominion Institute, which showed that only four provinces have any requirement for graduating high school students to have taken a Canadian history course. The article noted that this was essentially a history course that started with the First World War and worked its way through the major events in Canada during the twentieth century ending with the patriation of the Constitution in 1982. 
          The four provinces named as requiring Canadian history courses were Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Prince Edward Island. The remainder seem to require the study of so-called Social Studies which contain a little Canadian history. Apparently these Social Studies are a miscellany of what the paper called « 'socially relevant’ snippets of Canada's past into a smorgasbord of citizenship, technology, ecology and spiritual education. » 
          Based upon my own experiences I had always thought that any study of history would begin with the early history of man and civilisation. The history of places like Sumeria, Egypt, India, China, Greece and Italy followed by that of France, England and Europe and thence to the founding of North America. I would then have expected a curriculum, which included the history of this country until some recent time, perhaps, the first Quebec referendum. I would have expected also some coverage of various schools of philosophy from places such as ancient Greece, China and so on. Until I read this article in the Globe and Mail it had never occurred to me that the teaching of history in this country would consist of anything other than that. 
          Whether all this is a result of deliberate neglect, political manipulation or plain ignorance I do not know. However, it does begin to explain the disturbing things one has heard coming from the mouths of certain politicians. Long ago I noticed that stories of Canada’s history were largely a function of the mother tongue of the commentator. Any given historical phenomenon described by a French and an English author frequently appeared so dissimilar that it was often exceedingly difficult to believe that they had been observing and describing the same event. 
Nothing new under the sun 
          There doesn’t seem to be anything particularly new about these complaints either, because even in 1880 there were complaints about the teaching of Canadian history. George Ross, then Minister of Education in Ontario, complained that « The histories in use across the country were merely provincial histories, without reference to our common country. »  
          Sometime in the 1960's there seems to have been some revival of interest in Canadian history, around the time of the Centennial of Confederation, Expo 67 and the late Pierre Trudeau’s assumption of the reins of power. Emphasis was then placed on Canadian Studies but the term seems to have meant whatever you wanted it to mean. It did not include necessarily a study of Canada’s history but tended to deal with such matters as politics, literature, current events, art, the environment and other public issues. Canadian Studies also coincided to some degree with the rise of the politically correct movement and feminism which began to point out the awful things that white males had done to various native groups and to women in general.  
          In Quebec, the history taught in its English schools consists of translations, from the French, of the government’s view of the province’s history. The questions in the examination make mention of such things as « the economic and social liberation of French Canadians », implying that others were opposed to the acknowledgement of the French language. Uncontested as fact are statements such as « the federal government patriated the Constitution without Quebec’s consent »; an inexact interpretation of events to say the least.  
          This ethnocentric view of things is simply political propaganda disguised as history. Interestingly, it is a course which is compulsory in Grade 12; a time when its recipients are likely to become voters in very shortly after graduation. This technique is one which totalitarian governments of all political stripes have practised in the past, so our secessionist politicians and their like minded bureaucracy are hardly doing anything new.  
          Reading some of the text written about the FLQ crisis in 1970, we find that Labour Minister Pierre Laporte was found dead and that members of the FLQ were imprisoned and exiled but there is no mention at all of FLQ bombings and blackmail threats. There is no mention of the fear that permeated the province, and especially Montreal, at the time. No mention that Laporte was murdered or that he and UK Trade Commissioner James Cross were kidnapped and held hostage. Yesterday’s terrorists are today’s heroes. All this points to a deliberate policy of rewriting history to support a political point of view. Perhaps the real meaning of the Quebec provincial motto Je me souviens is « I remember only that which suits my case at this particular moment ». 
     « All this points to a deliberate policy of rewriting history to support a political point of view. Perhaps the real meaning of the Quebec provincial motto Je me souviens is "I remember only that which suits my case at this particular moment". » 
          The American « melting pot » approach to its immigrants had much to do with converting immigrants into Americans. The history of the country could be taught in a way unadulterated by purely local or state issues, thus cementing the immigrant’s feelings of belonging to their new country. The immigrants could become Americans, perhaps hyphenated to begin with but rarely beyond the second generation. The Canadian approach, the « mosaic » so beloved by the multi-culturalists, has fragmented the way the country’s history is taught and continues to prevent the emergence of a Canadian identity. If Canada is not to be a nation of individuals but a nation of ethnic groupings then we are likely to see a future in which there will be more attempts at secession rather than less. In fact, the American melting pot is beginning to boil and as it does, fragmentation into ethnic groups, Canadian style, is an increasingly likely outcome. 
Malleable History 
           History has become the malleable tool of those who would have us apologise and recompense those groups they claim our ancestors mistreated. The politics of apology have become the main underpinning of today’s Left-wing ideologists. By today’s politically correct standards, various groups were abused, in one way or another, by other groups in the past. Natives (or to use a more politically correct term, indigenous peoples) abused by settlers. Japanese Canadians or Italian Canadians interned during World War II or Ukrainian Canadians interned in the First World War. Take your pick.  
          If the history of the past was told truthfully, or indeed told at all, we would know that in the 1930's Italy, through its consulates in Toronto and Montreal, was actively soliciting support for the Mussolini regime. The brutal invasion of Ethiopia by Italy in1935 saw women donating their jewellery to raise money for that war. There was of course nothing wrong with this, at least from a Canadian perspective; it only became a problem when Canada and Italy went to war in 1940. It was at that moment that this activity became a threat to Canadian security. As a participant in a war against the Axis powers of Germany, Italy and Japan, Canada could not be expected to condone any of its citizens providing financial or even moral support to its enemies. There may well have been some police incompetence, some wrongful arrests and mistreatment of individuals. A few such individuals may have had a case for compensation but there is certainly no case to be made for blanket apologies and compensation as has been suggested by some.  
          The treatment and evacuation of Japanese Canadians in the Second World War has also been the subject of much hand wringing. There may have been little reason to fear the loyalty of most Japanese Canadians in BC, but there was certainly reason to fear the propagandising of the Japanese Consulate who considered all Japanese Canadians to be still Japanese citizens. It was well known that the consulate was trying very hard to recruit spies. Some 700 Japanese Canadians citizens who declared that they were supporters of the Japanese Empire were interned. The theft of the property of the evacuated Japanese Canadians however cannot be condoned, even though it was done with judicial approval. For the innocent people though, compensation was both morally and financially appropriate. 
          Pope John Paul II, who usually displays a great deal of common sense in his statements, came close to becoming part of this political victimology ritual in a series of speeches he gave in March of this year. While not actually delivering an apology he did ask for « divine pardon for the wrongs of all its believers » over the last two thousand years. A statement that was immediately misinterpreted as an apology for the Catholic Church’s past transgressions especially against the Jewish nation. 
For the record 
          All this use of history and victimology is simply a way for the « victims » to appear as a separate group in need of help, usually in the form of government largesse. In other words, they use your and my hard-earned money. 
          The more strident feminists in the recent past, with their insistence upon sex equity content, have further attempted to slant Canadian history. As a writer in the Globe and Mail put it, the heart of the change effected by women’s history « has been to redirect the focus of the study of human experience away from political-economic roots toward social and cultural ones ». Whether we like it or not, in the four hundred years or so of Canadian recorded history most of it has been made by men and not by women. Of course there have been many outstanding women who have contributed significantly to the growth of this country, and they should be recognised as so doing. However, much more has been accomplished by men especially in those times when the role of woman was considered to be inferior to that of man. Unfair certainly, but not untrue. 
          The history of Canada’s Labour unions has been the cause of much vehemence in academic circles. Whereas the old school of labour historian was interested in things like the causes of this or that strike, the newer Marxist historians asked questions about what the strikers were thinking about when they struck? Anyone who looks closely at what is happening in Europe today will realise that Marxism is still alive and well. Just because they wear suits instead of battle fatigues doesn’t mean that they have abandoned their views. Marxists have developed the rewriting of history into a fine art. 
          Without an understanding of a country’s history it is simply not possible to evaluate the present. A situation ready made for our politicians who continue to exploit the situation and so we, like mushrooms, are continuously fed manure and kept in the dark. Returning to George Santayana, perhaps his famous warning that « Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it » is no longer relevant, since an increasing number of Canadians are unlikely to have any memory of their past to remember. 
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