David Warren reminds us why he is Canada's finest columnist
by David Warren
Thinking back on the columns I’ve written for Dominion Day, over the years, I am struck by a tone almost of lamentation. “My” Canada -- she of whose history I remain proud, from Cabot and Champlain through to childhood memory -- the Canada for which my father and his father marched off to Europe -- is not in question here. Little symbols of that Canada still wash up in the flea markets, and I have a relic of it on the table as I write, forming a still life with the laptop, ashtray, and big mug of tea.
This relic is a schoolbook, published by the Macmillan Company of Canada, in whose warehouse at Bond Street in Toronto I once shunted boxes as a kid. The thing is properly stitch-bound into a soft cloth cover, so that it has held up nicely through nine decades. It once belonged, according to the fountain-pen inscription on the front endpaper, to a certain Ida Hope, of Leamington, Ont.
The book is entitled, Flag and Fleet: How the British Navy Won the Freedom of the Seas -- and is by William Wood, then Lieutenant-Colonel in the Canadian Militia. I am familiar with this author, a capable historian, whose enthralling account of Francis Drake and the old Elizabethan sea dogs once fell into my hands. His little volume, All Afloat -- a survey of historical Canadian boats and waterways, from the Chronicles of Canada series (1921) -- is still on my shelves. Wood’s works are both learned and lively.
They are both impassioned, and fair. After mentioning, for instance, cruelties of Spanish conquistadors to aboriginal inhabitants of the Americas, he reminds his reader of what British conquerors did to the Beothuks of Newfoundland. Nor, conversely, does he stint in praise of the great seamen and vessels of other lands and empires, when there is occasion. Perhaps it is only my own weak hold on maritime history, but I seldom find him making a statement of fact that requires serious revision in light of later knowledge. Wood’s books are dated only by the fine spirit that infuses them, of loyalty to God, King, and Country.
Wood’s was a loyalty founded on love of one’s own, on a genuine and reasonable pride in the accomplishments of his people, and not on belittling what is foreign. Indeed, his loyalty to the British Empire -- of which Canada was then a conscious, self-governing part -- makes him cosmopolitan in a way now lost on his “nationalist” successors, whose outlook is crabbed by narrow, “politically correct” abstractions, and the fears they engender even in writers who are not themselves socialist, feminist, morally relativist, and so forth.
This loyalty is the reverse of the spirit enunciated by e.g. Stephen Harper, recently, in his appalling Parliamentary apology for the entire past existence of Canada’s residential schools for Indians. In a craven and cowardly act of political correctness, our prime minister smeared generations of sincere teachers and missionaries, both Catholic and Protestant -- who devoted their lives to serving the Indian children according to their best lights, and to saving whom they could from what was often terrible squalor.
We may certainly dispute the methods and even purposes of the best of them: historical revisionism is academic fair play. But to officially tar all these teachers and missionaries together with the few malefactors who abused their trust; and to condemn the whole enterprise in the loaded terms of an explicitly anti-Christian ideology -- this was shameful. Mr Harper played directly to the gallery, implicitly accepting the radical thesis that everything Indian is necessarily in conflict with everything Christian. As a friend who is Cree, and Anglican, said to me: “Truly, a white man who speaks with forked tongue.”
The same argued in extenuation that Mr Harper was only acknowledging the standards of today -- that his ignorant historical anachronism is merely a fair representation of what is now taught in every public school. It is, after all, doubtful that he would know enough actual Canadian history to realize that the condemnation he was uttering -- in the name of “tolerance,” “multiculturalism,” “closure,” and various other postmodern idols -- could equally condemn all of our ancestors.
In my lifetime I have seen the “re-branding” of my country, and with it, inevitably, the rewriting of our history to accommodate many lies. The project began officially with Lester Pearson’s new flag, in 1964 -- that ad-agency “red maple,” doubling as the emblem of the Liberal Party. Under Trudeau we saw this red maple used as a kind of rubber to erase the old heraldry; and almost every other symbol of Crown-in-Parliament followed into disuse. The proud word, “Dominion,” was among the noble artefacts put out with the trash in annus horribilis, 1982.
By such acts -- including, more substantially, the rewriting of our laws -- our governments and our "gliberal" governing class have made it impossible for the patriot of the old order to be a patriot of the new. And the very freedoms we inherited as Canadians now fall, successively, before the State’s new “human rights” inquisitors, as we face an ignominious future.
Lamentation, as George Grant once explained, is not an exercise in negativity. On the contrary, it is a celebration of the good that was, and is now lost, and that we would recall to life for posterity, "That posterity may know we have not loosely through silence permitted things to pass away as in a dream."
It was Grant who wrote, so prophetically in 1965, his book, Lament for a Nation. With considerable passion, he observed the triumph of Pearson's deracinated technicians and straw men, and the smug new class of media publicists, coolly demonizing the upholders of every noble tradition in Canadian life. Grant was wrong about many topical details, but boldly right in the main.
So on this, as on every Dominion Day, let those who can still know how fine a country our ancestors made -- how free and how honourable a Dominion -- remember what was. “Et dominabitur a mari usque ad mare, et a flumine usque ad terminos terrae.”
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Tuesday, 1 July 2008
David Warren reminds us why he is Canada's finest columnist