Monday, November 09, 2015

Magna Carta

I've seen it.

The Magna Carta... well, one copy of it, from Durham Cathedral... is touring some of the major cities of Canada. This autumn was Toronto's turn, and we almost missed it. P-Doug brought it up some time ago but for some reason, we didn't catch on. He saw it. Larry and I realized a weekend ago we were about to miss our chance, and so we got tickets for the very last day, this past Saturday, and the three of us went. The Magna Carta and the Charter of the Forest were on display at Fort York in the west end of the city.

The new visitor centre just west of Fort York itself. You can see the Gardiner Expressway that very nearly destroyed the fort in the in the 1950s till the people of the city demanded the course of the Gardiner be slightly diverted.

Looking east to the wall of the fort, and new condos beyond, and the downtown core in the distance. Rather a different view from the 1790s.

The shoreline of Lake Ontario actually used to be right here when the fort was built, and during the War of 1812. Several hundred feet of the shoreline have since been reclaimed and the fort is now several minutes' walk inland.

I think it's amusing that the Magna Carta has a "beer sponsor", seen at the bottom of this placard. But thank you, Muskoka, for helping make this day possible. :)

The first place we were ushered into was a 12-minute video presentation about the Magna Carta and its legacy, presented by Prince Charles. It also featured statements by former Prime Minister Kim Campbell, former Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci, and the Speaker of the House of Commons, Andrew Scheer. It went into a clever, compelling, and gently educational animated segment narrated by Gordon Pinsent. I wish I could show it to you, but I haven't found it online.

Sorry for the low contrast in the photos that follow. Flash photography was forbidden. But my phone seems to have handled the situation well enough; the detail is there and nearly always good enough. Anything you'd care to look more closely at can be viewed by clicking on the photo and looking at its larger version.

Below is one of the surviving copies of the Charter of the Forest, a statement of the rights of the commoners to the use of the forests for their living. It's a key document in securing the idea of the rights of people in the general sense, and it was issued a few years after the Magna Carta.

And below, the Magna Carta itself. This copy belongs to Durham Cathedral in England.

Displays around the Charters talk about their enduring legacy and applicability in Canada in particular, and in other countries shaped by the British tradition.

There was an interactive display listing a dozen principles that can be arguably traced to the Magna Carta, and visitors were asked to select the three they thought mattered most. I chose, in order, Freedom and Equality, Right to Vote, and Freedom of Expression. As it turns out, those seem to be the biggest three in general, and in pretty much that order. I think it's because of those, like Winston Smith said in the novel 1984 of being able to say that 2+2=4, "if that is granted, all else follows."

Below is the original book of statues for the Province of Upper Canada (now Ontario), established in 1791. It's open to one of the very first statues passed in Ontario, forbidding the importation of slaves, and manumitting all slaves born in Upper Canada from then on at the age of 25. The card accompanying it remarks the law was the first of its kind in the Empire. I've actually held this book in my own (gloved) hands at the Archives of Ontario, many years ago.

Larry was astounded to see this... the bullet-proof vest worn in 2001 when a minister of the Metropolitan Community Church performed the first legally-sanctioned same-sex marriage in Canada. It seemed un-Canadian, he remarked, to imagine that such extreme measures were necessary... and that's probably because, fortunately, they turned out not to be. What would we think if the police hadn't made this suggestion, and a shot had rung out?


Ashley Brooder said...

Magna Carta and the Changing Face of Revolt explores the charter as part of a long history of the contested identity of the citizen, stretching from the Wars of the Roses to the Great Reform Act and from the Suffragettes to the Occupy Movement.

~Ash@Haus Immobilier

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