Right in the centre - The past: a good place to visit, poor place to live


By Ken Waddell

Neepawa Banner & Press

Our knowledge of history, or more precisely, our lack of knowledge, has come around to bite us big time.

Take Bishop Grandin Boulevard in Winnipeg. I have studied a lot of history, ever since my school days in the 1950s and ‘60s. I can actually remember well over 60 years of history. That’s what happens when you get older. That said, I hardly knew Bishop Grandin existed before the south Winnipeg highway was named after him.

A quick check on Wikipedia shows, “Venerable Vital-Justin Grandin (8 Feb. 1829 - 3 June 1902) was a Roman Catholic priest and bishop that dedicated his life in the defense of the rights of native North Americans[1]. He served the Church in the western parts of what is now Canada both before and after Confederation. He is also the namesake or co-founder of various small communities and neighbourhoods in the Province of Alberta, Canada– especially those of francophone residents.”

He felt that the traditional lifestyle of Canada’s Indigenous people was going to end in extinction. He promoted residential schools. Whether his intentions were honourable or not, many aspects of the residential schools idea became a disaster.

As we go through an ongoing review of our past mistakes, I am appalled by people who hate studying history but are shocked when their lack of knowledge of that same history ambushes them. I like history and studying history is to know what shaped our country and why we do the things we do.

We need to study our history and, more importantly, learn from our history. If we don’t, we will keep on tearing huge holes in our social fabric as we repeat the mistakes of the past. There are realities that we need to recognize. All our past leaders had good points and bad. Some of the bad stuff was intentional. Some was by accident or flowed out of ignorance. Those realities applied to all leaders, at all levels and in all groups.

We need to study our history with a view to learning from it. Here’s some examples. Our first prime minister, John A. Macdonald, was an ambitious visionary. Without his vision and drive, we would all be deciding today if we were Democrats or Republicans. Check it out, it’s true. We almost didn’t make it as a country. Macdonald was an alcoholic. It’s been joked that if his statues drank as much as he did, they would fall over on their own. In the course of his very long political career, he also did some very sketchy things. Look it up. 

His most famous successor, Wilfred Laurier, was far from perfect. Louis Riel was a great visionary, a man of strong Catholic Christian faith. He did great things and some bad stuff too.

You can review the whole history of Canada and not one person, not one, is totally pure. Whether it be motives or actions, there were flaws. I face my own flaws every day, it’s a struggle. A country is no different.

God gives us a new day every morning and we need to both examine and honour our past, as individuals and as a nation. In so doing, we will learn from the past so we have a better future together. We need to engage with each other, learn from each other. Bickering, yelling, burning churches, tearing down people or statues only hinders us as we proceed. 

Let’s learn from our past, the good and bad, and then live abundantly in the present so that we can have a future.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this column are the writer’s personal views and are not to be taken as being the view of the Banner & Press staff.