A gesture based on false premises
J’accuse ‘Port-la-Joye’ of being named for a waterfront whorehouse?
The Siege of Fort Amherst, 2017, continues in these columns with attacks from the redoubts of UPEI. Peter McKenna’s most recent (August 25) salvo against the continuation of the name of General Jeffery Amherst at the Port-la-Joye / Fort Amherst National Historic Site stretches the facts to state that General Amherst “engaged in germ warfare” against an Indigenous group in America. (Getting into the spirit of making stuff up and calling it history: J’accuse “Port-la-Joye” of being named for a waterfront whorehouse.)
McKenna adds the stunning new charge that General Amherst “never once stepped foot on P.E.I.” This bold-faced suggestion is the slipperiest slope yet in the public place-names debate: were it to be a criterion followed in some Orwellian future, it’s bye-bye Prince Edward’s Island, Charlotte’s Town, George’s Town, Victoria, Alberton, Cavendish, Eldon, Wellington — and, of course, all of the places named for Samuel Holland’s many friends and patrons, and all of the Saints.
We’ll need to have all of these “non-tourist” names replaced by a government panel that will screen all future proposed honourees for non-visitation, or anything else in their personal history that might offend. It would save time to simply agree now that instead of honouring inevitably flawed human beings, in future all public spaces shall be named as randomly-generated letter/number combinations.
Also from UPEI, straining to deflect the informed and evenhanded opinions of Earle Lockerby on the subject in these pages, Tony Couture (August 21) attacks General Amherst for terming his Indigenous battlefield opponents “savages.” While it’s fair to call out my British forebears for their laughable sense of superiority to the “savages,” (although it was no joke for Franklin’s North-West Passage Expedition), any European of the 18th century — never mind a commander in the French and Indian War who’d heard stories of enemy atrocities — is such a soft target on this subject.
Couture, however, states this term is “wrong enough from today’s enlightened point of view.” His enlightened approach recommends the extremity of changing a place-name that has stood for well over two centuries, for the offence of being the name of a prominent man of his time whose views are rightly criticized today. Does Couture caution his students against reading 18th-century philosopher Adam Smith, whose The Wealth of Nations is based on contrasting savage and civilized nations?
Removing Amherst’s name from Fort Amherst would promote unearned self-congratulation, rather than useful self-examination and reflection on the history of the Island’s Mi’kmaq, who deserve much more than a gesture based on false premises and no standards.