A slippery slope
Renaming sites like Fort Amherst as a means of reconciliation is misguided
My June 8 letter to the The Guardian explained, based on primary documents, how General Jeffrey Amherst became associated with the distribution of smallpox-contaminated blankets to Indigenous people. His suggestion in this regard related to the Shawnee and Delaware peoples of Pennsylvania, not the Mi’kmaq. No one has disputed this. No matter.
On July 3, in her piece about Fort Amherst, Guardian reporter Teresa Wright wrote that Amherst “tried to murder local Aboriginal people with smallpox blankets.” Unless Shawnees and Delawares are considered “local Aboriginal people,” Wright is incorrect.
On July 15, Holland College journalism instructor Wayne Young wrote in his opinion piece that Amherst “proposed distributing smallpox-laced blankets among the First Nations people on the Island.” I challenge him to provide proof of this claim; reading it in some book or newspaper (secondary sources) is no proof.
“Fake news” from Wright and Young, who are both in the business of journalism (including, in Young’s case, teaching it), is unfortunate, particularly after my attempt to set the record straight for Guardian readers — do these two not read The Guardian? Or is it a question of their opinion or recycled information trumping facts?
Yes, reconciliation with Indigenous people is highly overdue. However, in my view, renaming places, sites and structures as a means of reconciliation is misguided. After dropping Amherst’s name from the fort at Rocky Point, are we to proceed to expunge his name from Amherst Cove, Amherst Point and Amherst Cove Consolidated School? In our revisionist purge, let’s not forget Rollo Bay — Lord Rollo wiped out the Island’s Acadian population, deporting about 3,000 Island Acadians in 1758, half of whom died of ship-borne disease and drowning.
Let’s agitate for the renaming of Amherst, N.S. Islanders of Scottish heritage may be affronted by Cumberland County, N.S., named after the Duke of Cumberland, also known as the “Butcher of Culloden,” and arguably the most despised figure in Scottish history. He is infamous for the slaughter of many fleeing Jacobites. Moncton, N.B., must also be in our sights. In 1758 Col. Robert Monckton burned the Acadian settlements along the Saint John River from Saint John to Gagetown.
Back on the Island, we are confronted by Indian River — “Indian” is no longer considered an appropriate word in general conversation, so this community will need renaming. Where does that leave the Indian River Festival, its name signifying excellence nationally and internationally, thereby doing the Island proud?
And finally, Savage Harbour. I don’t mean to be insensitive, but why are people getting bent out of shape over Fort Amherst while blithely overlooking the place name Savage Harbour? I don’t need to get into the etymology of this name with all its colonial connotations — first French (Havre aux Sauvages) and later English. This place name could be considered downright derogatory.
History is as it is. Not surprisingly, many historical figures did not act in accordance with today’s norms. When we start down the slippery slope of nomenclature revisionism or statue removal, where does it end? Let’s exercise some historical perspective.
The entrance to Park’s Canada’s Port-la-Joye-Fort Amherst historic site near Rocky Point, P.E.I.