Cornwallis And Ryerson – Heroes Or Villains

Culture Wars, Frontier Centre

The recent controversies over tearing down the statues of Canadian heroes because some of their actions have offended our modern sensibilities needs some historical context.

 No one, no matter how revered, ever lived without flaws. Louis Riel, lauded for the founding of Manitoba, ended his life as a false messiah who wanted to rename the North Star after his sister, and move the papacy to Montreal; a failed leader whose decisions brought ruin on the Métis of the Northwest. Yet we have erected statues of Riel and name a public holiday after him.

Undoubtedly Winston Churchill was a racist, and made some disobliging remarks about Islam, but who will deny that he is worthy of our gratitude for helping save civilization from Hitler? Martin Luther King was a plagiarist and adulterer but he remains an idolized figure. Tommy Douglas, founder of Medicare, was once a proponent of eugenics and sterilizing the mentally handicapped, yet his fellow countrymen voted him the title of “The Greatest Canadian”.

A nation must have heroes and we must honour the men and women who helped build Canada. An approach that recognizes in each historical figure an overall balance of benefits, of good deeds and bad attitudes, will save us from ceaseless revisionism and endless moaning about the sins of our ancestors.