On Further Reflection: The lion and the lamb, a wonderful civic emblem

Edward Hicks Peaceable Kingdom 1834 – wikipedia

Originally posted November 15, 2020

It’s a wonder that the badge and shield of the Waterloo Regional Police Service bear the image of the lion and the lamb. How did a biblical motif with pacifist overtones become a symbol for a 21st-century police force? The story begins around the time Waterloo County was established as a formal entity in 1853.

The County was a creature of the province, which at that time was called Canada, itself a creature of British authorities in London. At this particular time, the colonial capital was Québec City.  

The new municipality’s autonomy was limited, but being granted an existence allowed some self-assertion. The very first thing local leaders did was authorize a “corporate or common seal” depicting a lamb and a lion. This was Waterloo County By-law No. 1.  

There is nothing in the minutes that explains why this motif was chosen. But it seems safe to assume that it’s a reference to the pacifist settlers who started coming to the area more than 50 years earlier.

I asked former Regional Chair Ken Seiling if there was any resentment over the symbol in parts of the County where settlers from Pennsylvania did not predominate. He doesn’t think there was. People interpreted the emblem as they saw fit, and it was common to associate the lion with the British Empire. 

In that sense, there’s a connection between the lion in the foreground of the statue of Queen Victoria in the Kitchener park that bears her name.  

The lion is one of the most common heraldic symbols. It is found on the crest of the University of Waterloo, and of the original Waterloo in Belgium. My native land, province and city all fly banners with lions rampant.

The lamb as a civic symbol is relatively rare, but there was one on the coat of arms of my home town in Canada — hanging on a hook.

The Empire is gone now, as is the County. So is my home town. 

A key element of the new order imposed by the province in 1973 was the Waterloo Regional Police Force, later Service, which replaced eight separate city, town and village constabularies, and took over from the Ontario Provincial Police in four townships. 

With modifications, the original seal remains the coat of arms of Waterloo the Region. However, for reasons I don’t fully understand, for everyday use, the motif was gradually set aside in favour of a logo with no wondrous elements whatsoever: It looks like something designed for a propane tank provider, not for what was once the most recognizable and honoured County “brand” in all of Canada. 

Meanwhile, our Police Service has embraced the historic seal and made it a key component of how they present themselves to the public they serve. 

They are peace officers, so it makes sense that way. But the reference is to a prophecy:

When the lion (or the wolf, as Isaiah has it) dwells with the lamb, God promises that no man or beast will “hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” 

When that happens, we won’t need police anymore, at least not for the services they provide today. 

Sculptor Ernest Daetwyler takes a different approach with his public art installation commissioned by the WRPS for their new North Waterloo building on Columbia at Weber.

As Daetwyler describes it, in his work a “powerful and strong, but relaxed lion is posed lying on its side, its tail moving languidly signifying the composure of a contented cat. The newborn lamb, while vulnerably close, is unworried as it looks upon the lion.”

He offers an interpretation: “The lamb stands for youth, getting its first shaky legs of independence as do many students who enter university life in Waterloo. The lion represents community and establishment, patient to let the youthful lamb explore its independence but watchful and protective.”

That’s a novel way to tell the story, and telling the story with artistic insight and license is what Daetwyler was hired to when he was commissioned to do the piece. As he explains further, it’s all about “the juxtaposition and tension of power versus vulnerability, a reality faced by both police and society every day.”

photo courtesy Ernest Daetwyler

I’m sure the artist won’t mind me saying that I’m not totally convinced, especially the wobbly-legged, capricious university student part. He’ll agree that interpretation is best left open to imagination:

What we have here is a unique, aesthetically pleasing, deeply meaningful civic symbol that is truly world class. It is a genuine wonder, and it would be a shame to explain it away.

Democratic Policing

Even though the Waterloo Regional Police Service has only existed for less than 50 of the 167 years that have gone by since County By-law No. 1 was passed, carrying that original seal on the badge says something: To me, it indicates that what we have here is not just another manifestation of modern policing in the abstract, but actual people in an actual place performing actual services.

The badge says that this is an entity that serves, represents and is inextricably bound with a distinct, constantly evolving community of communities with broad historical roots and boundless prospects.

Putting on this badge doesn’t transform police officers into lions. The badge indicates that they are citizens dedicated to service to other citizens. Their strength is not weaponry, training and other leonine qualities, but their commitment and our trust. 

Does that have any bearing on current discussions about the role of police in a just and equitable democracy? It can if we choose to give the emblem and the traditions behind it relevant meaning.

Heritage isn’t something that is mentioned very often in discussions about the role of police in modern societies, which usually deal with statistics, demographics, budgets, managerial considerations, and discussions using the language of political, economic and other social sciences of the day.

The fact that current realities are the product of an ongoing evolutionary process is clearly evident in a colonial context like we have here in the land of the Canadas. We’re still in the process of working things out. 

My emphasis on the importance of connecting policing practices with actual, distinct historical entities like cities and provinces was influenced by this extraordinary “List of killings by law enforcement officers by country” I stumbled upon recently in Wikipedia. 

It is somewhat reassuring to see that the rate of deaths at the hands of security forces here in Canada is ⅓ that of the United States or Mexico. 

It is sobering to realize that by world standards, police in the U.S. and Mexico are only moderately violent, and that law enforcement is most deadly in what the chart designates as “the Americas”, followed by Africa and Asia. 

The logical conclusion is that colonial claims, conquest and settlement are part of the picture here.

But the question that came to mind immediately when I saw this chart is: Why do Canada’s police kill at 20 times the rate of their counterparts in the United Kingdom? 

That countries like Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and Switzerland do better than we do is no surprise: These are known to be democracies with advanced social and economic orders that are also relatively small and homogeneous.

But to see that Britain, the land of skinheads, punks, Thatcherites, strikes, protests, soccer hooligans, race riots, sectarian animosities, deeply entrenched regional and class divides, and an increasingly diverse and much larger population, is also among the nations with the lowest rates of police killings in the world today, that is something to wonder over.  

From there, I began refreshing dim recollections about the origins of modern urban policing in Victorian England, which brought me to Sir Robert Peel’s “nine principles of ethical law enforcement”. 

“Ethical” isn’t the word I’d use. The key principle is summarized in Peel’s famous phrase “the police are the public and the public are the police.” So “democratic policing” would be more to the point, meaning liberal democratic law enforcement. 

By liberal democracy I mean something far more complex and significant than what could be called “arithmetic democracy”: majority rule through often quaint and sometimes absurd electoral rituals: that familiar numbers game dominated by parties and factions that so many of us, left, right and centre; aspirational, regressive and disruptive, have been finding increasingly exasperating of late.  

My preference is “commonwealth policing”, not as a description of anything that ever existed, certainly not as paean to anything British or Imperial, but as something to aspire to. It’s a romantic touch, designed to leave a bit of room for the wonderful, the imaginary. 

Adding the historical dimension humanizes, but in no way limits, the liberal and the democratic: Waterloo County/Region is a real place, with a diverse array of constituent communities, each made up of actual, living people, within political and institutional configurations that have evolved over time, and that remain in constant flux. The story continues.

The point is: Our future, including the future of the police service that wears the badge with the lion and the lamb, is ours to imagine, to shape, and to make real.   

statue of Sir Robert Peel in the original Preston, Lancashire, England, UK.


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.