Friday, May 26, 2006

A look at home

I had today off, so around noon I took the subway downtown to meet my friend Paul who works at the Archives of Ontario. I got to see some incredible things. One of the most powerful for me was a book, printed over 200 years ago, recording the very first acts passed into law by the legislature of the newly-created Province of Upper Canada, which was renamed Ontario in 1867. Here is a photo of the very first law every passed here.

First law of a new country

Ontario was essentially founded by Americans leaving the United States after the Revolution. There has never been a time in our history when that dichotomy has not been a factor in who we are and what we fear to become. So, relatedly, I also found another remarkable record, completely by accident. Paul was showing me the pamphlets on record, and pulled down one from the 1860s, prior to Canada becoming a nation in 1867. In it was a speech by Thomas D'Arcy McGee, an Irish immigrant who was one of the Fathers of Confederation. McGee was always enthusiastic about creating a union of the British North American colonies, and he did live just long enough to see it happen, before he was assassinated in April, 1868, less than a year after Confederation. On the back page of the pamphlet, someone had pasted an article from a newspaper recording one of his speeches, this one delivered before an audience in Quebec, about Canada's destiny in the face of the American Civil War. As Paul read it out loud, I literally got goosebumps. The things McGee was saying then still ring true today, 140 years later...

"That shot fired at Fort Sumter, on the 12th of April, 1861, had a message for the North as well as for the South, and here in Quebec, if anywhere, by the light which history lends us, we should find those who can rightly read that eventual message. Here, from this rock, for which the immortals have contended, — here from this rock, over which Richelieu's wisdom and Chatham's genius, and the memory of heroic men, the glory of three great nations has hung its halo, we should look forth upon a continent convulsed, and ask of our rulers, 'Watchman, what of the night?' That shot fired at Fort Sumter was the signal gun of a new epoch for North America, which told the people of Canada, more plainly than human speech can ever express it, to sleep no more, except on their arms — unless in their sleep they desire to be overtaken and subjugated. (Cheers.) For one, Mr. President, I can safely say that I know myself I have not a particle of prejudice against the United States; on the contrary, I am bound to declare that many things in the constitution and people I sincerely esteem and admire. What I contend for with myself, and what I would impress upon others is, that the lessons of the last eighty years, more especially of the last few years, furnished by America to the world, should not be thrown away upon the inhabitants of Canada. I do not believe that it is our destiny to be engulphed into a Republican union, renovated and inflamed with the wine of victory, of which she now drinks so freely — it seems to me we have another and a worthier part; we can never join the Americans on our own terms, and we never ought to join them on theirs. — (Cheers.) A Canadian nationality — not French-Canadian, nor British-Canadian, nor Irish-Canadian — partiotism rejects the prefix — is in my opinion, what we should look forward to, — that is what we ought to labor for, that is what we ought to be prepared to defend to the death. (Cheers.) Heirs of one-seventh of the continent — inheritors of a long ancestral story, — and no part of it dearer to us than the glorious tale of this last century, — warned not by cold chronicles only, but by living scenes, passing before our eyes, of the dangers of an unbalanced Democracy, — we are here to vindicate our capacity, by the test of a new political creation. (Cheers.)"


katherine said...

I didn't know Paul worked at the Archives. That must be an amazing feeling to work with history every day. Or maybe it's just a job and I'm romanticizing it. Either way, it sounds like your day their was great fun.

I've recently started back to school (part-time). Right now I'm taking an Art History class, which has awakened an interest in all history.

Anyway, very interesting post! Thanks.

Lone Primate said...

Hi, Wonderkat. :) Yeah, Paul's got a great job, and it's exactly the one he wanted for years. He sure paid his dues. He's the only example of anyone I know personally who set his sights on a goal and really threw himself into everything — including myriad volunteer work — to get the brass ring. A lot of his job is tedious, I expect... but I was there on Friday and I got to see the gold inside the cave. :)

So you're taking art history? What aspect in particular? Or is it still just general? My own intention is to one day go back to university and finish my four-year degree, then chip away at a Master's, hopefully to have it by the time I retire. Then there's nothing between me and my PhD but the Reaper! Yee haw!