Woke Cancel Culture Targets Champlain

Cancel culture has come calling again and another Canadian hero finds his reputation in peril from attacks by ultra-woke public employees. This time it is Samuel de Champlain (1567-1635), whom […]
Published on February 24, 2024

Cancel culture has come calling again and another Canadian hero finds his reputation in peril from attacks by ultra-woke public employees. This time it is Samuel de Champlain (1567-1635), whom readers may remember from their high school history lessons as a French explorer and cartographer of the eastern seaboard and St Lawrence Valley, penetrating as far into the interior as Lake Huron.

He pioneered French settlement of Acadia, founded Québec City and Trois Rivières, and created a vast trading network with native tribes with whom he had good relations. He spoke indigenous languages, adopted three First Nations children, and wrote the first ethnographies of the Montagnais people.

Champlain defended Québec against the English, and against those back home in France who wished there to be no colonial settlement but only a fur trading enterprise in those lands. He kept royal interest alive in the face of little discernible return. He was, as no one else, the Father of New France and thus an important figure in the history of Canada.

In the four centuries since his activities Champlain has been honoured by having his name attached to towns, parks, colleges, rivers, lakes, schools, streets, and warships. His likeness has been preserved on postage stamps in Canada and the United States and on statues. Tributes to him have been constant and uncontroversial until recently when bureaucrats in Ottawa began to have second doubts about this towering figure.

An entirely harmless and fact-filled plaque commemorating him in Nepean Point, Ontario was flagged for review by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board whose note explains: A review can be triggered for one of the following reasons – outdated language or terminology, absence of a significant layer of history, factual errors, controversial beliefs and behaviour, or significant new knowledge. According to the Board, Canadian tributes to Champlain are under scrutiny for being too “colonial”.

Most Canadians on hearing that judgement would be puzzled. “Too colonial”? Wasn’t the whole adult life of Champlain devoted to the colonial project? Isn’t the existence of Francophone Canada the result of 150 years of French colonialism? Wasn’t Canada originally formed out of the union of four British colonies and wasn’t Confederation completed in 1949 with the addition of Britain’s oldest colony, Newfoundland?

The answer is “yes” to all of that but we are now told that colonialism – which brought to North America things like literacy and science, and ended the endemic tribal warfare and slavery – is now something to be ashamed of. University curricula, our legal system, medical care, our constitutional monarchy, etc. are all to be decolonised in the name of reconciliation and inclusiveness.

Those are laudable goals but anticolonialism has, for many activists, academics, critical race theorists, and organizations, a darker side: to question the very legitimacy of the Canadian state. Thus we hear phrases such as “so-called Canada” or “Canadian-occupied territory on Turtle Island”; the vast majority of Canadians are referred to as “settlers”; elected politicians term Canada a genocidal entity.

Such critics do not all have a shared vision in their corrosive attacks on the Canadian project but they all profit from weakening our pride in the past. If Champlain who planted the French-speaking fact, if Macdonald who engineered Confederation, are now to be un-persons the door is open to radical upheaval and changes that we have not voted for.

 

Gerry Bowler is a historian and Senior Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy

 

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