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On Further Reflection: Nolo Contendere

With minor revisions, as originally published via THEMUSEUM’s CultKW online magazine on October 6, 2021

Dove, lithograph on paper by Pablo Picasso, 1949 – wikipedia. 

I’ve been trying to abstain from debate.  

It’s not easy. I like to jump into the fray now and then. Fighting with words is my preference — words carefully and deliberately chosen, so with forethought, not in a face to face, spur of the moment confrontation.  

This combative bent has served me well. I was invited to join the Waterloo Regional Arts Council after denouncing, in caustic language, their proposal to revitalize my city’s ailing legacy civic and business district by putting up giant heritage murals, just like Welland, Chemainus and scores of other desperate towns and cities from coast to coast. 

I was invited to write weekly commentary on the regional arts, culture and heritage scene for our daily newspaper after submitting a sequence of op ed pieces expressing my utter contempt for the rhetoric and the actions emanating from Queen’s Park under Premier Mike Harris and his Common Sense Revolution wrecking crew. 

This was a “Second Opinion” piece ridiculing a proposal from one of the global consulting firms to reconfigure our KWS into an Ontario Symphony Orchestra that convinced the publisher to invite me to make a weekly contribution to the paper, which I did for the next 22 years.  

So in a very real way, my belligerence became a gateway to how I ended up earning my bread and butter. And now I’m trying to give it up. 

This is a direction I’ve been leaning toward for some time. It stems from a growing uneasiness with stereotypical partisan stands. I do have convictions, preferences, hopes, loyalties, aspirations and sensitivities. I have learned, however, that taking an aggressive stand diametrically opposed to the convictions, preferences and sensitivities of someone else can backfire: Opponents become more deeply entrenched in their positions, or get drawn into positions that contradict what they originally stood for.  

I have also become aware, lately, of how easily we can get drawn into simplistic pro or con, yes or no, us or them, either/or stand offs. Sometimes we’re enticed into such positions deliberately, to set us against one another, to confuse us, to distract us from what’s actually at stake. But it mostly happens by force of habit.

The idea that political discourse takes place in a kind of arena, with Habs vs Leafs, red-shirts vs blue-shirts locked in endless combat, has become part of how we think, how we try to make sense of our world and our place in it. Watching from the stands can be wonderfully entertaining, and personally participating as a contestant can be a healthy exercise for the body and the mind. But in terms of actually solving or learning anything, gladiator-style debate is usually inconsequential. It can also be deadly dangerous. The issues we’re facing today are of grave consequence. Partisanship has become an obstacle.        

Trying to hold back my pugnacity is not a turn towards a friendlier, more tolerant approach. I haven’t resolved to turn the other cheek against noxious or deceptive ideological positions. On the contrary. Part of the motivation is the realization that we’ve reached the point where certain varieties of wrong-headedness have become an existential threat to all us creatures here below. We can’t afford to treat dangerous perversions of truth with “both sides” politeness or a sporting fair play any longer.

I touched on this subject in two “musings” written for CultKW.com a while back: Beyond Opinion, and Further Beyond Opinion. These pieces began as part of an experiment in refraining from confrontational debate. Both deal with controversy over proposed developments, two high rises and a mega-warehouse; the stories were all presented in the press as parochial opposition to change –  Not In My Back Yard – NIMBY fights.

The point I tried to make is that these are not two-way debates, in which decision makers are expected to choose between a “yes” and a “no” side. What we’re involved in here is a collective deliberation exercise, not a stand-off between opposing forces. These are broad, many-faceted issues. There’s far more at stake than a neighbourhood trying to protect its stability, preserve its character, and the right to quiet enjoyment of their space under the terms that were in place when their homes were initially rented or purchased. The outcome will impact everyone who lives here, today and for generations to come. 

Civic deliberation is best served by avoiding two-way standoffs, and turning, instead, to broadening the range of what warrants being taken into account, thereby complicating the picture. To be effective, inclusive and meaningful, civic deliberation needs to move “beyond opinion”. 

A genuinely civil conversation is, essentially, a learning process: The basic question, as Waterloo Architecture professor Rick Haldenby asked in relation to the condo boom in the older parts of Kitchener, is “What kind of city are we building?” What would be the best possible result, taking every factor into consideration? 

“Where there is much desire to learn,” John Milton famously wrote in Areopagitica, “there of necessity will be much arguing, much writing, many opinions; for opinion in good men is but knowledge in the making.” But opinion from misguided gladiatorial types, including the deceivers and the deceived, is hate, fear, ignorance, schism and violence in the making. 

Stumbling upon a noisy display of hard-hearted opinion can be infuriating. The impulse to flip such offenders the bird, as Uptown Councillor Tenille Bonoguore did back in June, can be irresistable. It is wiser, however, to respond as one would to a highly contagious disease: apply the antidote (good-heartedness really does beat hate, always), but from a distance, with the best personal protective equipment available.       

From Op-ed → Guest Essay 

This new resolve to avoid confrontational positions coincided with the recent announcement that the New York Times is retiring the term “op-ed“.  I was interested to learn that “op-ed”, a term the Times introduced just over 50 years ago, means opinions published on the page opposite the editorials in a traditional newspaper layout. The change is driven by the shift toward accessing the paper’s content online, beyond the physical page. Opinions from outside the Times editorial structure are now called “guest essays”.

I have mixed feelings about this. I think of essays as structured arguments, probably because of the role essay writing had in my high school and post-secondary education: You begin with a thesis statement, and support it with logic and evidence. The goal is to produce a cogent, convincing composition. 

Opinions are softer propositions: the Latin root means from “conjecture, fancy, belief, what one thinks.” When you say “this is my opinion,” you’re saying “I suppose… ,” not “this is absolute Truth” or “here I stand, I can do no other.” 

The word “essay” can also mean trial, attempt, weigh, test, so the distinction may not be as stark and clear as I first thought. But it’s important to see that there is a difference. (These musings, incidentally, are offered as the softest, most free-wheeling of opinions. Let’s stir things up a bit, but playfully, not to make more trouble, of which there is plenty to go around).    

The opinion pages have always been my favourite section of the daily newspaper. This is usually the first place I look. After that, anything with local/regional relevance is of interest; the rest is mostly chaffe. There are many sources for quality news and commentary about Canada, the U.S. and the world at large, but on the local front, the daily newspaper has, until recently, had little serious competition.   

Almost every day, I come across something that widens my perspective, complicates my understanding, and opens possibilities for further thought and action. Increasingly, this tends to be material that reaches me through a friend or someone I follow on one social medium or another, primarily in text form. My own posting and sharing of material has increased in frequency and length throughout the 18 months I remained isolated in my “coop at the co-op.” 

The social media behemoths have been blamed for fostering partisan division, serving as platforms for disseminating what I call “truth splinters”: narrow, partial or perverse views that are readily transfigured into lies and used to foster fear, resentment, judgement and hate. What gets left out can be more significant than what finds its way to our respective feeds. 

Online sources of information offer an hitherto unimaginable wealth of material. With so much food for thought readily available, mostly at no cost beyond what they charge for Internet access, the editorial aspect becomes increasingly important. And it pains me to say it, but right now, my Facebook friends, LinkedIn contacts, and the people I follow on Twitter are doing a better job sorting through the Whole World Wide web and directing my attention to material that can be of practical value for learning, imagining and doing things here in our neck of the woods than what our beleaguered regional daily and weekly papers are able to do. 

When I first encountered the term “editorial product”, it sounded repugnant, partly because it was in something Conrad Black had said. But when I subscribe to — literally, underwrite — the local paper, that’s precisely what I’m supporting: An editorial product, put together by people I can trust to sort through all the material available, and select what can be of good use to me as an engaged citizen of my city and region: Kitchener, Cambridge, Waterloo, Grand River Country. 

When I subscribe to a newspaper or a certain kind of magazine, I’m also underwriting a learning institution. The way Milton explains it, what he calls opinion and I’m calling civic deliberation begins with a desire to learn. When we really want to learn, we open our minds to perceive, proffer and receive knowledge and wisdom. The objective is not to triumph, but to create and recreate something tenable that is also practically useful, drawing on all the facets and slivers of fact, truth and possibility that are within the range of comprehension.   

That includes the kind of understanding that the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation last week is all about. My sense is that Truth, when we begin to approach it, will not be the final triumph of one conclusion over another — a kind of historical Judgement Day — but suddenly catching a glimpse of the enormity and the complexity of the great historical wrongs that are the foundation of North American culture and society. 

Picasso’s Dove on USSR stamp and souvenir sheet celebrating the centennial of his birth – wikipedia 

On Further Reflection: The Canadas (Part 2 of 2)

With minor revisions, as originally published July 1, 2020

I’ve been using the second person plural a lot: “we”, “us”. What I mean is we, the people who belong to the land of towns.

The question of who belongs here, and in what way, quickly becomes complicated.

For starters, let’s consider the sequence of events in the “Celebrate Canada” program run by the federal Department of Canadian Heritage.

It begins with National Indigenous Peoples Day, on the summer solstice. 

The traditional Quebec holiday known as Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day happens June 24th. 

June 27 is Canadian Multiculturalism Day. 

The series culminates with Canada Day.

This is meant to be a benign, feel-good set of observances. But the problems are immediately apparent.

Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day was renamed Fête nationale du Québec in 1984.

The “National” in Indigenous Peoples Day/Month needs some qualifications and explanations. The fact is, with the possible exception of Métis Nation, the Indigenous Peoples are part of, but not confined to the land of Canadas.  

The lines that define the various states, provinces and territories of North America, and the border that separates their union of states from our confederated provinces have little or nothing to do with the original nations of this continent.

The international border is enforced with guns and prisons, so it’s best not to defy it, as some brave souls carrying a Haudensaunee passport have been known to do. 

The point is, for Indigenous peoples, that border is an imposition, and to some extent, so was the Dominion of Canada. In the beginning, and underlying all, is the land called Turtle Island.

Inigenous Peoples Day, as the Prime Minister of Canada said this morning (I’m writing this Sunday morning, June 21, 2020) “to take time to reflect on the cultures, traditions, languages, contributions, and heritage of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people.”

The contributions of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis to what the land of the Canadas has become are valuable beyond measure. They certainly belong to the land of towns, and the land belongs to them more than to anyone else. However, in both time and geographical space, Indigenous peoples, cultures and nations transcend the Canada that Justin Trudeau is Prime Minister of.

Celebrate Canada covers, in whole or in part, two of three nations that John Ralston Saul describes as the “triangular reality” of Canada: First Peoples, francophones and anglophones. 

Francophone Canada is more than Québec. National Acadian Day happens August 15.  The Métis Nation is part of Indigenous Peoples Day; Louis Riel Day in Manitoba is February 15. 

There are also the people of the Québecois diaspora from coast to coast to coast, and over the border into the lands of the Bostonnais

The descendents of the Acadians who were expelled to the English colonies, and who made their way to Louisiana when it was part of Spain in the Americas are also part of the story.

But what about all the other peoples and nations that are part of the land of the Canadas?

What about Newfoundlanders. Aren’t they a nation? What about the Capers in Nova Scotia?

What about the Doukhobors and the Hutterites out West, or the Mennonites who originated from the Netherlands and came here via Russia, East Friesland, sometimes even Mexico or Paraguay? What about those settlers that came here to Grand River country from Pennsylvania, looking for land that would allow them to live, work and worship in a place more peaceable than the new revolutionary republic forged in battle? 

These aren’t nations, but they are peoples, peoples set apart by their heritage and by choice.

And what about all the rest of us? Is Canadian Multiculturalism Day a big stew pot for all of allophone Canada, including Dutch settlers like me and the Deutsch who came from Europe to build the City I live in? Or do we all get lumped in among the anglophones as soon as we learn to speak and think in English?

And speaking of the anglophone part of the triangle, why is this not part of Celebrate Canada? 

In my Waterloo Region Record column, I used to advocate for making Victoria Day part of Celebrate Canada.

I once considered our peculiar habit of observing Queen Victoria’s birth as an opportunity to reflect on the cultures, traditions, contributions, and heritage of British Canada: the United Kingdom as represented in the Union Jack. Fête de la Reine, after all, is about a monarch with palaces in both England and Scotland. 

This would cover the thistle and the rose; how the shamrock relates to the Maple Leaf Forever is another matter.

But since the rise and triumph of Brexit, I’ve changed my views. The United Kingdom barely survived a “yes or no” referendum in Scotland not so long ago, just as the land of the Canadas did, not once, but twice upon a time. 

“Better together” was the motto of the winning side in the referendum for Scottish independence in 2014. Great personages like Sir Mick Jagger, David Bowie, and Sir Paul McCartney joined in the effort to save their country. But that slogan has now lost all credibility. 

My fear is that Brexit may prove to be the most momentous manifestation of the separatist impulse since the English settler colonies declared their independence in 1776. 

At least that exit made some sense: The colonies had to become a separate entity so that France, their former arch enemy, could fight with and for them. Brexit 2016-2020 makes no sense whatsoever. 

English voters were fooled, the same way voters south of the border were taken in to allow the greatest anglophone liar of all time to wear the mantle of honest George Washington. 

Appalled with the election of a clown to fill the shoes of Winston Churchill, I began shouting (in text, through social media) Vive l’Écosse libre! 

“How this will affect all the other separatist causes around the world,” I wrote, “ — Albertan, Basque, Biafran, Canarian, Catalonian, Flemish, Frisian, Hong Kongese, Kurdish, Londoner, Puerto Rican, Quebecois, Tibetan, Uyghur,  Zulu — remains to be seen”. 

It is at that point that I started thinking that an evolved configuration of the land of the Canadas might help us steer our way between the Scylla and Charybdis of a motherland besotted by the narrow nationalist separatism, and a brotherland incapacitated by the White Man Republican contagion.

Meanwhile, with regard to the Celebrate Canada lineup, my preference for the main branches of Celtic Canada — i.e. citizens with origins in the lands of the Indigenous peoples the British Isles —  are St Andrew’s Day (November 30), St David’s Day (March 1), and the one we all know: St Patrick’s Day.

In Jamaica, the national motto is “Out of Many, One People”. Which is certainly a worthy aspiration. Unity, however, doesn’t suit the Canadas. Unity was the goal of the Durham Report when it recommended the assimilation of the francophone nation into a single, anglo-dominated entity. Unity was the aim when residential schools were set up to assimilate Indigenous youth into the settler mainstream.

Canada is plural: One Land; Many Peoples. 

We are not a single unit, nor a twin, not even a triangle: We are multiform, and best viewed through a lens that is kaleidoscopic. 

To keep it together, and to prepare for the trials that lie ahead, we would be wise to embrace our manifold past, present and future, and make ours a story of how a land of nations, peoples and towns came to be, to flourish, and perhaps even to be a light to the world.

On Further Reflection: O Canada (Part 1 of 2)

with minor revisions, as posted July 1, 2020, along with Part 2: “The Canadas”

I was brought here on a ship, so I’m not a native son. Kindling true patriot love took some time. As a callow youth I was a regular Yankee Rebel.

My best friend in high school was a proud Quebecois who could trace his ancestry back to the earliest seigneuries. We co-wrote a weekly column for The Trentonian and Tri-County News called “Looking at Stamps”. That’s part of what gave us a global outlook, along with my foreign origins and his family’s association with the Royal Canadian Air Force. 

In those days new nations were breaking the chains of empire in rapid succession. So when the Union Jack came down to make way for the red Maple Leaf Flag 55 years ago, our hearts glowed with pride: We were free at last from those humiliating colonial bonds.

Gradually, beginning around 30 years ago, I developed a somewhat peculiar notion of what Canada is all about. I became what could be called a “neo-Loyalist”, just when the province we had settled in did a complete about face from “Loyal She Remains” to a clumsy variation of revolutionary republicanism.

Today is the 153rd anniversary of Confederation — originally just New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Canada, which would soon be divided into Ontario and Quebec. 

At that point, “Canada” had been a place name on European maps for more than 300 years. 

“They call a town Canada”, Jacques Cartier wrote in his diary, “they” meaning the Indigenous people he met along the St Lawrence shores. So he called their land le pays des Canadas — the land of towns. 

The meaning has shifted over time. I read somewhere that at one point ”Canada” signified all of New France at its zenith, including the entire Mississippi basin down to New Orleans, an entity that came into existence as a complex range of agreements with the peoples of those lands.  

Canada is a good name. Calls to change it are extremely rare, with one glaring exception: for nationalists in Quebec, it has come to mean “the rest of Canada” — anglophone Canada. 

Personally, I’d like to see a return to the plural: the land of Canadas, or the Canadas. I’ll explain why later.  

Before I go there, I want to profess an allegiance to a long, broad view of what Canada signifies: 

With a wide angle view, what happened in 1867 becomes just a step along the way. In some respects, it may have been a step backwards. 

What led me to this broad view was the great good fortune of being invited, out of the blue, to go down to Jamaica to teach North American history at the University of the West Indies 30 years ago.  

It started as a one-year appointment. North American history meant primarily the history of the United States. 

As it happened, the one-year placement became two, and then three years. In the second year, I was assigned the additional duty of teaching “The Atlantic World 1400-1800”.

This is the foundation course for studying history on all three UWI campuses: Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados (today there are five campuses serving 17 countries and territories)..

The course covers the interaction between Atlantic Europe (mainly France, England, Portugal, Spain and the Netherlands); Africa (mainly West and Central Africa), and the Indigenous peoples of the Western hemisphere from the time sustained contact began. 

The Atlantic World is a recognized field of study now, but it was a relatively new concept then. Teaching a U.S. history survey course with a few Canadian references had been a breeze, but this assignment took me far beyond what I was familiar with. I had to work extremely hard to give my students what they deserved.

Doing this work in what had been a British West Indian colony, on a campus that was once a  sugar plantation, to a class representing a new generation of the African diaspora, was disorienting — in a good way. It felt my whole world had been turned upside down. But that view has felt right side up ever since. 

The story looks different depending where you stand: Hudson’s Bay, Newfoundland, Quebec, Boston, New Amsterdam/NewYork, Jamestown, Charleston, Savanna, Port au Prince, or Kingston, Jamaica. But to understand any of those places, it makes sense to begin with a single narrative.

Up to the day when the “world turned upside down” in 1781 (i.e., when the British surrendered to the Continentals and their French allies), very few people had even imagined such a thing as a United States of America, much less a Dominion of Canada. Up to that point, we were all part of an integrated system. 

After the 13 colonies seceded, the rest — Newfoundland, Canada, the loyal Maritime colonies, Rupert’s Land, Louisiana, and the British, French, Dutch and Danish Caribbean — carried on.  

Spain in America is also part of the story, especially for the U.S. chapters, but I don’t know enough to do it justice, even in a light, cursory telling. Suffice to say that there were great cities with universities, sophisticated local economies and distinct cultures in the southern part of the hemisphere before there even so much as a log cabin in what is now Canada and the United States.   

The main point I’m getting at here is that the land of Canadas wasn’t born on July 1st, 1867. 

Nor did this country suddenly spring into existence on July 24, 1534, when that adventurer from St. Malo “discovered”, named and claimed it for King Francis I.  

We built the towns and the roads, in some cases on Indigenous towns and roads. But the land the towns of Canada are built on is the work of the Creator and/or grand geological forces over time. 

According to the story as I like to tell it as a 21st-century Canadian, this continental matrix from which we emerged, from Trinidad to Nunavut; from Bonavista to the redwood forests, still connects us. 

When slavery was abolished in the British empire on August 1st 1834,  Upper and Lower Canada, Newfoundland, the loyal Atlantic colonies, and the British West Indies were all part of a single, although infinitely complex, whole. 

One indication of those connections is the fact that the Jamaican national dish is ackee and saltfish – an African ingredient and a Newfoundland ingredient brought together in the crucible of the Empire, originally as cheap food for slaves on sugar plantations, and now part of what could be called Jamaican exceptionalism.

The prevalent view, here and around the world, is to see things in accordance with the U.S. storyline. If we had a more comprehensive view of our origins, Canadians might still make more of observing Emancipation Day on August 1st as they do in Jamaica (as did Free Blacks in the U.S. and the Boston Brahman abolitionists that I wrote about in my dissertation).

Our association with the abolition of slavery in the British Empire is something we can take some store in. But this also connects us with modern slavery based on race, which means the Transatlantic Slave Trade and all that has resulted from it, including the tragedy that is race relations in the United States. 

The fact that the settlers in the 13 colonies separated and went their own way at one point doesn’t erase our part in these developments, for better and for worse.

See also Part 2: The Canadas

War and Peace

Waterloo Day Eve, Friday June 17
Kitchener, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

Still from War and Peace, Andrei Bolkonsky, USSR 1966 – wikipedia

About a month ago, I got a bee in my beret about organizing a public screening of the 7-hour film adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace (USSR 1966) on Saturday, June 18th.

June 18 is the anniversary of the 1815 Battle, the namesake of Waterloo the County, Region, City, Township and University. Two years ago, I wrote a couple of columns that proposed making this an annual event:

Waterloo Day

Waterloo, Waterloo, Waterloo

The film carries a special resonance in 2022, with war once again engulfing Russia and Ukraine. So does the historical connection of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada with the theme of peace. 

The hope was, or is — I haven’t abandoned the idea entirely — that showing a great work of cinematic art from the USSR when it encompassed both Ukraine and Russia, based on the work of a writer from Russia in Tsarist times who was a committed pacifist, could help us cope with this deplorable war and its effects on our lives and livelihoods in 2022, and think about how to restore peace. 

I just wish I’d thought of this earlier: all the places I contacted about the possibility of hosting an all-day film screening were booked, and the turnaround was just too quick for all the potential partners. 

For the Waterloo Day idea, there’s always next year. There will still be room for a meaningful local/regional complement to the “Celebrate Canada” program run by the federal Department of Canadian Heritage, from National Indigenous Peoples Day (June 21), to  Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day (June 24) and Canadian Multiculturalism Day (June 27) and culminating with Canada Day on July 1st. 

We can only hope that the current special relevance of War and Peace, the novel and the Soviet-era film epic, will no longer apply when we reach June 18, 2023. But these are art works for the ages, part of the inheritance of all humans, living and yet to be born. They warrant this kind of attention in the same way Shakespeare’s plays deserve a world-class annual festival. 

Meanwhile, as the fighting continues in Eastern Europe, doing something along these lines here in Waterloo Country might still be worth a try. I’m sending this out to see if anyone is interested in being part of an impromptu “One Epic Film, One Community” initiative over the summer ahead. 

The film was originally released in four parts, over a year and a half. My idea was to make it an all-day event, but it can also be watched in installments. I subscribe to the Criterion Channel, so I can watch it, and host screening parties with guests, anytime I like. The MUBI streaming channel is another option; both are relatively affordable and offer a free trial period. KPL and Idea Exchange have copies; there’s also a YouTube version. 

If you’re interested in being part of something like this, let me know (mdg131@gmail.com; 519 880 5454). 

To help get things going, I just started a Home Range Film Club, “an association formed to carry on with the film screening, discussion and appreciation activities of the Multicultural Cinema Club / Commons Studio from 2008 – 2020, including the Local Focus Film Festival, Multicultural Film Screening Series, History of Film Club, Friday Movie Show & Tell and a Kitchener NFB Club project.” 

There’s a Facebook group. I made it private, so only members can see who’s in the group and what they post. So far, there is one one member: me.  

Home Range Film Club Project #1: Launching an open-ended “One Epic Film, One Community” initiative encouraging and facilitating watching the 7-hour Soviet era film adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace (USSR 1966) over the summer of 2022.

There’s no particular agenda. I’d like to watch the film again, and think about its relevance, especially as a great work of cinematic art. And I know that I’ll enjoy it more, and get more out of it, if I do this as part of a group of Waterloo Country friends and neighbours.   

On Further Reflection: Waterloo Day

With minor revisions, as posted June 18, 2020, part of a series entitled “What’s in a Name?”

William Sadler, Battle of Waterloo 1815 – wikipedia

Today is the 205th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, the namesake of the Village/Town/City of Waterloo; Waterloo County/Region; the former Township of Waterloo (which included Berlin/Kitchener, Hespeler and Preston), and the University of Waterloo.

At about the same time, the Village/Township of Wellesley and the County of Wellington were named after Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington, who led the victorious forces at Waterloo.

This was in 1815, the same year our one and only war with the United States ended (we tend to forget that the War of 1812 was a branch of the Napoleonic Wars).

These Upper Canada namings took place the following year, 1816. I once spent a lot of time and effort trying to convince people in WWW country to make something of the bicentennial of Waterloo, Wellesley and Wellington as Ontario place names. 

The idea didn’t catch on. 

The story looks different from the other side. For most people, “Waterloo” signifies defeat, as in “meeting your Waterloo.” To me, this is an indication of how dominant the revolutionary republican storyline has been, really since the time of the U.S. American and French revolutions.

When telling the story from a Canadian perspective, Waterloo signifies victory. And peace: The next war of all against all in Europe and its colonies didn’t happen until almost a century later, and there has never been another war between the U.S. and the British, including the land of the Canadas. 

From an Indigenous perspective, the peace meant utter defeat. After 1815, the great settler republic began imagining it had a “manifest destiny” to dominate North America from coast to coast to coast to border (including absorbing the future Dominion of Canada). Part of what made such ambitions possible was that the two colonial powers on the continent were now at peace.

As a result, First Nations, who had held the balance of power on the continent and skillfully used it to their advantage, militarily and diplomatically, for more than two centuries, were now at the mercy of any army or police troop, and any armed settler vigilantes who happened to come their way. 

“American Progress” by John Gast, an allegory of Manifest Destiny – wikipedia

Half century later, when the non-rebellious European settlers on the continent achieved partial home rule, they started to imagine that they too had a divine mission to dominate the land and the people on it as a “Dominion” from sea to sea to sea.

For all these reasons, this is an annual milestone worth commemorating. 

Like all battles, Waterloo was a gory horror. But it was a fateful day, and we can be glad it was our side that won. Wellington may deserve to have his statue in Glasgow, Scotland torn down, but whatever his villainies may have been, those of Napoleon were far worse.

The Emperor didn’t just delay the abolition of the slave trade, as Henry Dundas has been accused of doing, he tried to restore slavery to his domains eight years after it had been abolished during the French Revolution. The former slaves of Saint-Domingue, now citizens of Haiti, put a stop to these plans.

A year later, Napoleon sold what was left of New France to the rising settler republic, thus sealing the fate of the people of the lands called Louisiana.

On Further Reflection: Waterloo, Waterloo, Waterloo

With minor revisions, as posted June 24, 2020 as part of a series entitled “What’s in a Name?”

Given that the first European settlers in this region were devout pacifists, and that the area has been peopled, over the years, by arrivants fleeing wars of one kind of another, including the largest Indigenous element, it is ironic that the two cities of North Waterloo and the County/Region itself are named after a battle (Waterloo) and a warrior (Kitchener).

If a name, or a motto, or a symbol like a crest, a flag or a statue associated with a body politic like a city, a province or a country becomes problematic, there are three choices: Leave it as it is and live with it; replace it with something more suitable, or modify what it symbolizes.

Waterloo the City, County/Region and University could simply declare that from now on, the name signifies peace, not the victory. Or that it signifies the defeat of the progenitor of modern military dictators, not the triumph of the British and their allies (it was the Prussians that saved the day).

The triple W could also disassociate from the battle altogether, and go back to the original meaning in my native tongue: Water + loo means “water, watery” + “forest, clearing in a forest, marsh”.

This could be accompanied with a declaration that henceforth the name signifies a commitment to sustainable development and holding the countryside line.

Another advantage of Waterloo as a name is that, unlike London, Cambridge or Berlin, we are the main Waterloo in terms of size and influence. When you say London or Cambridge to the world, you have to clarify that you mean that London or Cambridge, not the real London or Cambridge. For the main Waterloo, there’s nowhere near the level of confusion you get when you use most recycled names European names in Google searches.

The multiple meaning of the term does cause confusion in the local/regional context. When the Waterloo Regional Economic Development Corporation quietly dropped the “regional” qualifier and started presenting itself as the “Waterloo Economic Development Corporation” a couple of years ago, it generated some controversy. 

The move could be interpreted as amalgamation by stealth, as an obliteration of the Kitchener presence, and/or as an appropriation of the City of Waterloo name.

Part of the problem is the awkward term “Region” that the province imposed on our communities 40+ years ago. The world understands what a city, township or county is, but “Region” applied to a municipality is a peculiar and therefore confusing usage.

“Region” indicates a kind of re-colonization: Designating a county, and granting town or city status are a kind of separation; reverting to a “region” of the province is a step backwards. The equivalent would be the federal government turning a province back into a territory. 

The term also causes confusion among local/regional jurisdictions: W[R]EDC serves, represents and is supported by our “lower” tier as well as our “upper” tier municipal structures. The proper usage of the term “Waterloo Region” with a capital “R” is to refer to the regional municipal government, nothing more.

“Waterloo County”, on the other hand, meant the land within the boundaries set in 1853, the settlements on it, and municipal governments for rural areas, but not the separated towns and cities.

The original Waterloo in Upper Canada is the township that no longer exists. This is Block 2 of the Haldimand Tract, including the land where the cities of Kitchener and Waterloo now stand, as well as Preston, Hespeler and Blair, but not the former City of Galt.

And yet, as you drive into Galt on the road from Blair, you pass by a building with large, faded letters that spell out “South Waterloo Agricultural Society”. It is a reminder that Waterloo County was once, not so long ago, one of the most recognizable brands in Canada, as strong if not stronger than the Eastern Townships, Annapolis Valley or Cape Breton.

The fact is, Waterloo the village, town and city; Waterloo the former county, and Waterloo the university all appropriated the name in the same way the Economic Development Corporation has now done.   

There are good reasons for saying “Waterloo region” (lower case “r”), “the Waterloo area”, or “Greater Waterloo” to refer to all communities within the former county. [note in 2022: I’ve started referring to the land and the habitations as “Waterloo Country”].

This needn’t signify the annexation of Cambridge by stealth. On the contrary, it makes it clear that Hespeler, Preston and Galt are not being ignored, as they are with the long outdated term “Kitchener-Waterloo.”

One of the fundamental problems in the civic affairs of our region is the persistence of a KW-centric bias. Myopia might be a better way of putting it: “K-W” not only overlooks the existence of Cambridge, but also erases the distinction between Waterloo and Kitchener. 

It is true that the communities of the two cities of North Waterloo have been integrated in a way that the North and South Waterloo never have. “K&W” would make it clear that the reference is to both places. “K-W”, on the other hand, indicates a mindset: It has no actual existence. There is no mayor of K-W; there is no council that the citizens of the two cities elected to serve and represent them.  

If the K and the W were separated by a comma rather than a hyphen — “Kitchener, Waterloo” —  these problems would disappear. It would signify that Kitchener is part of the Greater Waterloo area. It could be useful in the same way “Preston, Cambridge” or “Galt, Cambridge” can be.

We’re not ready for the term “Cambridge, Waterloo,” but there are times when our more southerly (or easterly) communities might want to underscore their association with what is undoubtedly our strongest economic development and promotional brand.

If Waterloo the City feels slighted by any of this, it could start presenting itself as “Waterloo, Waterloo”. Not to claim that it’s the original; that would be false. However, a claim to being a double distilled manifestation of the spirit that makes Waterloo such a special place might be justified.

(Ontario) Election Hangover

Flag of the Isle of Man — wikipedia

Original Kitchener, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday June 7, 2022

This post began as an impromptu Facebook comment, my contribution to an exchange full of doom and gloom over the prospect of four more years with Doug Ford and his team in charge of the lands, the waters, our schools, our hospitals, our cities, our livelihoods. The initial post in the thread, which I encountered early Monday morning, was illustrated with a coffin. 

The results of the election last week are certainly discouraging: 57% of us didn’t even bother to vote, setting a new record in general apathy. As a result, support from a mere 18% of the electorate was sufficient for one party to form a majority government, giving them the power to run the province more or less as they see fit for another four years. That’s a recklessly dangerous way to steer any body politic into the future. 

People blame the lacklustre leadership of the two parties that split most of the rest of the vote, which combined would have added up to a slightly larger plurality than the winners who took all. There are calls for coalitions, mergers, and for electoral reforms of various kinds, most notably proportional representation.   

My problem with proportional representation is that it would further undermine place-based representation by treating political parties as constituencies. This might be an improvement over what we have now in terms of both fairness and prudence, but making a fundamental change to the electoral system is a laborious, time-consuming process. Do we really have time and energy for such an effort, which could, like all previous attempts at electoral reform, ultimately come to nothing? Personally, I’d rather work with systems that exist and resources that are immediately available.

My contribution to that “death of Ontario” discussion on Facebook began with a question: “Does anyone have an idea of what percentage of eligible voters actually belong to these political parties, and are therefore responsible for having chosen those leaders, setting those policies and developing those strategies we’re all finding so frustrating?”

I haven’t been able to find out how many Ontario citizens are formally committed to working under the red, orange and green banners. But I did learn that the champion PC of O blue machine cites 133,000 members, which is just over 1% of the electorate.

The thought occurred to me that perhaps active and responsible party membership, not voter turnout, is where the real apathy lies. And the reason may be that these associations haven’t evolved over time, especially in relation to the actual purposes they serve, or could serve, in the functioning of a liberal democratic order. 

It is not just our democracy that is under threat. The real tragedy here is how this particular party configuration was able to sail to another victory, despite their dismal record dealing with the environment: the land we live on, the waters below, the skies above. They have shown themselves to be the antithesis of conservative in the true sense of the word. Clinging to the 1950s notion of highway building as the path to prosperity in 2022 is flagrantly retrogressive, not progressive. 

It occurs to me that, given current prospects, and all that’s at stake, the quickest, smartest and most efficient strategy available to the genuinely progressive, conservationist, democratic, liberal-minded and good-hearted would be for us to get our act together, organize, and set our sights on taking over those rickety old hulks of political machinery so we can kick out the jams, and then proceed to fix up the works so these associated conveyances can get us to where we need to go. 

To be safe and sure, we might want to start hedging our bets. I’m proposing that, instead of seeking unity in opposition to another fragile unity, each of us join any of the three main political formations, with the understanding that we’re all fighting the same good fight — an army, a navy and an air force, say. We can then work on multiple fronts to find adaptive reuses for these derelict party structures so that they begin to suit 21st century challenges and opportunities. 

Let’s call it the triple boot approach, and borrow the ancient Manx motto:  Quocunque Jeceris Stabit — “whatever way you throw it, it will stand”. 

So what about the fourth option, the fledgling Green Party of Ontario and the 6% of us who voted for candidates running on its platform? Well, we could change the metaphor to a vehicle with four matched wheels, two that steer, and two to stay on track, all moving in the same direction. 

But the Green could also serve as the catalyst for change, as the heart and soul of the great awakening that the people of this province, and the land it is such a major part of, need and deserve. 

Under proportional representation, 6% would translate to about 7 seats in the legislature at Queen’s Park. But if all or most of the people who voted Green last week joined any of the mainstream political associations, including the triumphant blue machine, they would constitute an overwhelming majority. 

The proposition is not as preposterous as it might first appear. Before the Western Reform onslaught on traditional Canadian conservatism rendered them extinct, there were Red Tories, who were admirable, but sadly out of tune with the neo-lib/con ascendancy. There is no going back. But now, as we’re completing the first quarter of the 21st century, there is no good reason why there couldn’t be Green Tories, especially where the time-honoured Progressive Conservative brand remains extant. 

In the same way, and at the same time, there could be Green Liberals and Green Democrats. The approaches could be different, but instead of being constantly at odds, as in the antiquated political left versus the right of the 1800s and 1900s, the three polarities of the political order I’m imagining could operate as wholesome checks and balances to one another, and, when things are nicely in alignment, function as varied ways to accomplish the same purpose, like an army, a navy and an air force.  

Last Minute (Ontario) Election Thoughts

Tuesday May 31, 2022
Original Kitchener, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

Two days from now the people of Ontario will decide who to entrust with the government of our province for the next four years.

I am not able to give impartial commentary on provincial matters. A deep revulsion over what happened here in the wake of the “Common Sense Revolution” of 1995 has been a factor in almost everything I’ve said and done since. I remain committed to doing anything I can to undo the damage that was done, to ensure that what happened isn’t forgotten, and to prevent anything like it from happening again. 

Beyond speaking out on related matters every now and then, I haven’t been able to do much. I’ve learned that to make a difference you need to either join together with others, or convince others to work with you.   

I know how I’ll vote this time around, and why. For anyone who is still undecided, here are a couple of resources for “strategic voting” in the provincial election: 

votethemallout.ca

votewell.ca

The VoteWell site, which comes out of Victoria, B.C., explains the purpose this way: “There are 3 national parties in Canada with leftist politics, and only one that is right-leaning. This often causes a ‘split vote’ among leftist voters, giving the right an over-representation of electoral seats.” 

The message here is that we need to vote carefully, and take into consideration the odds, riding by riding. Which is what I’ve always done. But I don’t like the idea of “strategic voting”, and will try to explain why.  

To begin with, I don’t consider myself left-leaning, at least not in relation to a right as represented by the forces that dominate the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, their federal and other provincial counterparts, and, of course, the wellspring: the hard core Republican consortium down in the U.S.A.. 

The reality is that there are three viable moderate-centrist parties with progressive tendencies in this election, and one hard-line radical-libertarian party with retrogressive, obstructive and destructive tendencies. The distinction is not a bifurcation within a continuous spectrum, but between two completely different ways of seeing the world and our place in it. 

If I’m wrong, and the old left-right spectrum remains relevant, I want no part of it. And that’s a lonely position to take up. My place in relation to the body politic would be analogous to that of an Old Order Mennonite or a Doukhobor. 

My sense is that this core driving force in the PCO, CPC and GOP is out of tune, not just with the majority of citizens of both Canada and the United States, but with the reality of our time. It is also a contradiction of almost any reasonable combination of principles, ideas or moral standards. This is an optimistic view, but I’m trying to hang on to it. Giving up would be saying you can fool most of the people, year after year after year, which is tantamount to giving up on democracy itself. 

The Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario as currently constituted remains a force to be reckoned with only because it has been able to fool large numbers of Evangelical and Catholic Christians into voting with them, while skillfully managing to exploit, exacerbate and foment fear, resentment, suspicion and hate whenever the opportunity arises. 

Progressive and, I would argue, conservative in name only, the party that Doug Ford leads remains viable because they have retained the support of both traditional, true blue conservatives, especially in small town and rural settings, and of those who still identify with a political tradition that is nearly extinct: the anti-republican, anti-revolutionary “Loyal She Remains” strain on which this province was founded. 

The form, practice and culture of political parties as they function today are part of the problem. But I do believe in purposeful association and organization, even in the municipal sphere, where Canadians have generally tried to avoid formal partisanship. 

A key consideration for me is the question of what constitutes a constituency. We don’t vote as a province or as a country, but riding by riding. And while the process through which electoral districts are defined in Canada is far superior to the way it’s done in the United States, where partisanship corrupts the process, the effort to sort the body politic into roughly equal sections leads to some strange configurations that can be a hindrance to the democratic process.

My riding, Kitchener, has a certain integrity, but it is awkward to have parts of the city sectioned off and portioned out, some to Waterloo and others to the two sprawling suburban-rural ridings nearby so that the principle of rep by equal pop is maintained.

To vote strategically is conspiring to have it your way. You’re wheeling and dealing in order to outmanoeuvre what you consider your competition. It suggests that elections are contests between opposing interests and wills. What you do in the privacy of the ballot box is either a quiet profession of your personal convictions or making a calculated move in some kind of game with winners and losers. 

I’m not interested in having my say, or in silently professing my political faith, or even in determining an outcome I prefer. An election is democracy at work: a collective process, through which we, as citizens, deliberate, and make decisions about how to best move forward into the near future, together, as a city, a township, a province or a nation. And the “we” in our system is everyone within a particular constituency, however shaped and defined. 

It’s the deliberation process that matters most. What’s missing is a procedure for reaching a final decision. So the best I can do is to try to guess what my fellow citizens are thinking, and try to align with enough of them to constitute at least a plurality, and ideally a majority, on election day. 

Right now, especially with the diminution of local and regional media, there are few channels for meaningful deliberation. Public forums, all-candidates meetings, questionnaires and so forth certainly can help, and have been steadily improving. But they have a narrow reach. 

Essentially, elections are decided through rival advertising campaigns devised and distributed from metropolitan centres, and sent to our homes as standardized packages. They leave little or nothing to discuss. There is no reliable way of getting a sense of which way your fellow constituents are leaning, other than the kind of poll numbers provided by services like votethemallout.ca and votewell.ca. 

Despite those limitations, I’ve been satisfied with the results in my constituency. Over the last decade or so, I’ve voted red, orange and green, but always for the winning candidate. The last time a plurality voted for a party that I couldn’t possibly support was in 2008. Even then, I rather liked the winning candidate as an individual human being, and was able to have meaningful and productive discussions with him.  

But a plurality shouldn’t be enough. Declaring a candidate with less than a third of the eligible votes the winner is leaving things hanging. Our election process doesn’t give us a chance to come together to form a majority and make the decision firm. 

In a healthy democracy, of course, the final step would be for the body politic as a whole to declare support for the decision that was made through the democratic process. Once you’re elected, your job is to represent everyone in your riding. But that’s not possible when one party is an outlier, and the choice is between two completely different ways of seeing the world and our place in it. 

A house divided this way cannot stand. A body politic at odds with itself is diseased, and cannot live a full life. 

A progressive tendency means moving forward, adjusting to the needs of the times, and making improvements along the way. It doesn’t require unity or solidarity. But there does need to be harmony and balance. Treating a renegade party with retrogressive, obstructive and destructive tendencies as an acceptable option would be like trying to walk with one leg stepping forward while the other insists on going sideways, backwards, jumping up or kneeling down.  

Proportional representation would make things even worse. This would, in effect, turn political parties — partisan configurations of varying sorts — into constituencies. Instead of coming together, it would make division permanent, and reduce all political activity to brokering deals. 

There must be better a way. Meanwhile, we have to make do with the system as it exists, and the resources currently available.

According to VoteWell, it is not necessary to vote strategically in Waterloo or Kitchener, where people seem to be satisfied with their current representatives in the legislature, and neither of them are with the renegade party. For the other three constituencies in Waterloo Country — Cambridge, Kitchener-Conestoga, Kitchener South-Hespeler — it looks like the strategic vote, the responsible vote, the informed vote is orange this time around, with those leaning green holding the balance of power.  

I would work under the green banner if it became a movement dedicated to facilitating responsible collective decision making, finding solutions, and getting the work done, rather than a party in the root sense: a division, a parting, a separation. Questions of how we, human beings, relate to the planet, to creation, to our earthly home are not a priority, but a commonality: They are fundamental to all other considerations, and therefore a concern that should be bringing us together, not setting us apart from one another.  

Victoria Day Reflections 2022

Original Kitchener, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

Tuesday May 24, 2022

British North American postage stamp, 1860

I’ve just finished re-posting, with minor revisions, Victoria Day columns originally published in 2020 and 2021: On Further Reflection: Victoria Day 2020; and On Further Reflection: Victoria Day 2021.

With the former, there’s a note to say that, two years later, “I still love Victoria Day /  Fête de la Reine as celebrated in Canada, especially here in Upper Canada, for all its quaint peculiarities. I also have a deep and abiding fondness for Cavaliere Raffaele Zaccaquini’s landmark sculpture of Victoria and the Lion, which has been controversial of late, having become the object to the same kind of vandalism that led to the removal of the statue of John A MacDonald and other Prime Ministerial personages in Baden.”

I have no fondness for the ill-fated Prime Ministers’ Path project, but do sympathize with both the organizers and the artists who were commissioned to do the work. But I love Victoria Park, which has been the heart of Berlin and later Kitchener, Ontario for 126 years, and all it’s essential elements: the lake, the iron bridge, the band shell, the pavilion, the boat house, the trees; the monumental souvenir of the city’s majestic old city hall; the plinth where the Kaiser’s bust once stood, and, maybe best of all, the grand Empress cast in bronze, with the imperial lion reclining at her feet.    

So for me, the defilement is disturbing, painful and discouraging. I am alarmed over the impending loss: This public art work, a gift to the people of our city from a once powerful association of patriotic women that is holding its 122nd annual general meeting in Winnipeg this week, is fragile. They may end up destroying it.

But I have no desire to take up a routine binary, pro vs. con stance on the various issues that come into play here. The prevailing winds are clearly against the Queen who was born 203 years ago, and who has now been dead and buried for much longer than she lived, breathed and ruled over that Empire on which the sun never set. 

These are centuries old battles, and my sympathies are drawn toward the losing side, to what is generally neglected and forgotten, mocked and scorned. What we need, though, is peace and love; truth and reconciliation, not a settling of old scores or a return to lost causes. I firmly believe that truth, justice and what I hold to be the Canadian way are best served by complicating the picture, starting with broadening what is taken into consideration and enriching the story with nuance, colour and detail.    

We can make of these vestigial symbols what we choose. To me, Victoria wielding her sceptre and looking down from her pedestal, signifies, first and foremost, that all that Canadians have accomplished as a self-governing nation state among nations has been done peaceably, without the violent overthrow of an existing order, without a total break from the past. This is the essence of what distinguishes us from the separatist republic to the south, and perhaps the only cogent justification for maintaining a separate existence and staying together as a confederation of cultures, nations and settlements.

I also choose to think of the statue as a symbol of associations that were not always peaceable, and far from equitable, but real nonetheless. It is a reminder that what is now Canada originated as part of an entity that was global, and encompassed many cultures, faiths, languages and skin tones from the outset, and that this has shaped what we have become and are becoming.  

There are parks — dedicated civic outdoor gathering places — named after Victoria in towns and cities from sea to sea. In the early decades of Canada under home rule, municipal parks were still something new, and it is remarkable how many growing settler communities chose to name their central park after their Queen. 

photo courtesy Harold Russell, a child of Victoria Park

​​Early Evening in Victoria Park on Victoria Day Monday, May 23, 2022

What strikes you about Victoria Park is the diversity of the people you find there, much more so than at any other Kitchener gathering place, including the Market. Victoria Park is always busy – people walking dogs, playing soccer, or hanging out on the steps of the clocktower monument, pushing a baby carriage or minding a child on a bike. This Victoria Day Monday (one day before the actual May-2-4), on a mild evening, a group of young men were passing around a now perfectly legal toke, and just chilling, while a diverse stream of people passed by the fountain commemorating the journeys and arrivals of immigrants and refugees in the city. 

However, the real party, I discovered, was deeper inside the park. On the other side of Jubilee Drive, past the underused pavilion, starting with the playground, hundreds – perhaps thousands – of people had come out to celebrate the Monday off, almost all of them people of colour. There were picnics on the grass, picnics at picnic tables, children running and climbing, old people strolling, teenagers hanging out, young people flirting, boys with bicycles hanging out, men in groups – people in all kinds of clothing,  girls in white Sunday dresses, men in flowing robes, women with elaborate headdresses, and kids in jeans and sneakers.

I had not seen anything like this since leaving my home country, in Eastern Europe, on a May 1 or an August 23, the good-weather national holidays, when people came outside to be together, just like here, in Victoria Park: not so much in nature as punctuated by nature – on the grass, the groups spaced out by trees and bushes. 

There was not much music – a car radio in the full parking lot, not too loud – and the occasional pop of a firecracker that nobody paid attention to. The main sound was of people talking to each other. For a moment I thought I was the only white person there – but there were others, like me, passing through this immense family party. I felt I had witnessed something special, all these people so comfortably at home in the park, in the heart of the city.

In historical photos and descriptions of Victoria’s Park the crowds look very different. Although the languages and the accents have always varied, this visible diversity is a relatively recent development. And yet, as the statue of Victoria and the Lion can remind us if we so choose, the scene on Monday as my friend describes it is a reflection of connections that have been there for centuries. 

I am ready to concede, though, that there are many ways to tell a story without departing completely from the whole truth, which is unfathomable in its complexity. If you choose to see Victoria and the Lion as a symbol of oppression, conquest and domination, that’s your prerogative. It puts you in line with what has been the prevailing view, on this continent and around the world, since the alarm was sounded that the red coats were coming, and those shots were fired at Lexington. 

If this were true, how simple our strivings and struggles would become. If a coterie of pampered royal brutes are ultimately responsible for all the hate, and all the suffering that have plagued humankind over the centuries, something as simple as a guillotine could deliver us from evil (or, in the case of graven images that idolize tyranny, a smelting furnace or bit of room in a scrap yard somewhere). 

But at most, this would only be the tiniest sliver of the whole truth. Finding others to blame may seem like a convenient solution, especially if the guilty party has been dead for more a century. This leaves us, the living, completely off the hook. But this will not move the human race an inch, not even a millimetre, towards deliverance, redemption or reconciliation.

Time for a Reset

Original Kitchener, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday May 24, 2022

Another Victoria Day weekend has come and gone here in the original Canada West. I’m writing this on the Empress Victoria’s actual birth anniversary — her 203rd — which is Tuesday May 24.

Two years ago I started writing a bi-weekly column of “musings” for CultKW, a project of THEMUSEUM in downtown Kitchener. They called it I am Groot, with the tagline “still musing after all these years”. After an introductory column, I began the series with reflections on Victoria Day 2020.

I’d also started writing occasional posts for a personal website, and carried on with hosting and editing a weekly “community radio magazine” that airs on 98.5 CKWR, Canada’s first community radio station. 

Last fall, in the wake of the 2021 federal election, I launched a Substack newsletter. The inaugural post was an open letter to the freshly elected or re-elected representatives to Canada’s Parliament from our neck of the woods. The intention was to begin sharing thoughts with a more political focus giving equal weight to the three spheres of our democracy: federal, provincial and municipal. I called it “The Evening Muse, a newsletter of reflections from here, now and then”. 

The radio magazine continues to run, although no longer as a project of the Commons Studio at The Working Centre. The wordsmithing, however, started petering out, for a variety of reasons. But my thoughts continue to race along. They need some kind of outlet. It’s time for a re-set, and there is no better time for new beginnings than spring planting time, after the last day of frost.

I don’t think there’s room for any new channels or directions. As it stands, there are three mainstream platforms I use regularly, including contributions to eight different pages and groups on Facebook alone, along with six websites of one kind or another. There is a need for consolidation, but not prioritization. I want to carry with various threads that were introduced along the way.

So the plan is to go back to the beginning, and repost, with a few revisions here and there, all the writing that I think remains relevant in some way, along with a few comments explaining why. 

Meanwhile, I’d like to return to a more regular output, starting with the original twice per month. I’ll start utilizing the Substack platform, because it seems the most versatile, but keep marinusdegroot.ca as a mirror site and a repository for “On Further Reflection” re-posts.  

The Victoria Day, 2020 post seems a good place to start. I’m posting it here, with minor revisions, and a note to say that << I still love Victoria Day /  Fête de la Reine as celebrated in Canada, especially here in Upper Canada, for all its “quaint peculiarities.” I also have a deep and abiding fondness for Cavaliere Raffaele Zaccaquini’s landmark sculpture of Victoria and the Lion, which has been controversial of late, having become the object to the same kind of desecration that led to the removal of the statue of John A MacDonald in Baden.>>

I’ve also reposted a revised version of my Victoria Day, 2021 post, and will follow with a new column reflecting on the Victoria Day that has just passed.

The intention here, almost from the outset, has been to pull together the various threads that were started through these various projects and weave them into a pamphlet of some kind. The original idea was to offer some light-hearted 21st-century neo-loyalist reflection on Common Sense, the 18th-century pamphlet that did so much to divide North America into two federated nation states, each under their own version of settler home rule. But who knows where we’ll actually end up. We’ll go where the winds in our sails take us.