Thursday, March 20, 2014

Throw Out What Reminds Us of Blighty

A local paper recently ran an article that illustrates an odd phenomenon that has puzzled me since I came to Canada more than forty years ago.  Ever since Pierre Trudeau was our Prime Minister, as a nation we have been spending lots of taxpayer dollars on helping every ethno-cultural group we welcome here stay connected with their origins. Yet this columnist would have us throw away even more of the remaining visible evidence of our British origins when many of us still derive from that root. It is surprisingly frequent to find those who descend from our founding pioneer communities in English Canada demanding we forget all about what we once were. This is in marked contrast to French Canadians who actually value the visible tokens of their ancestry ('je me souviens'). Are those with demonstrable Anglo-Saxon and Celtic origins feeling these days that they are just not cool anymore?

Over the long years since I arrived on these shores many of the most directly anti-British remarks I have been subjected to have come from folk of United Empire Loyalist stock. The UELs, the only immigrant group entitled by law to display their origin by putting letters after their names (UE), like take pains to distinguish themselves from us more recent DPs (Displaced Persons) by dismissing this era's Britain as a shadow power.  On their houses and on some of the town halls of the many settlements they founded and still inhabit, flies the first Union Jack, the one lacks the cross of Saint Patrick and the British flag at the time when their ancestors arrived from the American colonies after the Revolution.  Nothing we British have done since then seems to impress them much and they feel fine about saying so to our faces. I rather doubt they would be doing the same for the other immigrant groups who came here after them.

It seems loss of interest in the history of emigration from those two tight little islands responsible for spreading parliamentary democracy and the rule of law across the globe has even spread to the (now former?) Mother Country itself. In a chat I had last summer with an American professorial expert on the War of 1812 that is currently the subject of bicentennial celebrations, he noted that mine is the last generation of Britons educated to believe that the British Empire had its good points. On his trips to Britain he has noticed that the Colonial era, long as it was, is increasingly taught with embarrassment or even swept under the rug in school history syllabuses.

Efforts by the current Canadian Federal Government to reinforce a sense of British heritage in our society are usually met with ridicule in the urban press. Multiculturalism is cool. Hide your origins, except perhaps on special folk festival occasions, and we will all get along just fine. While it is common to bemoan the general decline in comprehension of the social and legal underpinnings of our society, especially among the young, we do little to help newcomers feel proud of those who first settled our fields and villages, and to understand that it was where they came from that bequeathed us the gentle and civil country we live in today.

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