A ges­ture based on false premises

J’ac­cuse ‘Port-la-Joye’ of be­ing named for a water­front whore­house?

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - BY JIM HORNBY Jim Hornby is a mu­si­cian, grampy, his­to­rian, and cre­ator of “Fes­ti­val For The Bog,” a Canada 150 event held in Char­lot­te­town on July 15th.

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.

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