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Thursday, October 6, 2022
Opinion: Town needs to seize the day and rename Ryerson Park

Ross Robinson
Special to The Lake Report

Let's think about tomorrows in our unique Niagara-on-the-Lake.

George Santayana said in 1905, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it..”

Lately, I have been consumed by the issue of statue, building and park naming.  Sir John A. Macdonald. Robert E. Lee. Egerton Ryerson.

We now realize that naming statues to honour individuals is fraught with potential problems, as new history comes to light. Indian residential schools, slavery, Japanese Internment, Islamophobia and other unfair and horrible events are part of  Canada's history.

Celebrity and sports star marketing can go south too, shattering dreams and marketing plans.

In NOTL right now, we have a unique opportunity to set an example for the world. For some emotional, historical and tragic reasons, stars have aligned and our wee town should seize the chance to show others how this process can unfold. 

Happily, we have proof statements nearby, with the Landscape of Nations at Queenston Heights and the Voices of Freedom Memorial in Old Town.

The unspeakable, horrible confirmation at the Kamloops Indian Residential School and the obscene act of terrorism against a Muslim family last week in London remind us, we have “dark chapters” in our national history books. 

We must educate ourselves that the residential school system and systemic racism and white privilege have been part of the development of Canada. When we see our proud Canadian flags at half-mast, we are so saddened. We must all resolve to be better, kinder people.

Last Sunday, former U.S. president Barack Obama said, approximately, “We can be proud of our country and its achievements, while still recognizing the mistakes and horrible things that happened.” 

Indeed, we must learn from our mistakes, and commit to teaching our children the facts. As new facts are learned, the teaching must change too.

Today, young Canadians are more apt to “call out” racist comments and bad behaviour. This is good and we experienced people must learn from them.

Mass media and social media are so powerful now. Our thoughts are influenced and, due to confirmational thought filtering, we find ourselves increasingly polarized and unwilling to respect the thoughts of others. That being said, Peter C. Newman once wrote, “you can’t stage a Holocaust while CNN is watching.”

Ruth Abernethy, who created the Macdonald statues in Picton and Baden, Ont., said after the figures were removed, “This is disappointing, but also a sign that history is always in motion.”

Way back in 1997, I worked closely with town staff (Clive Buist and Ewald Kuczera) to protect the shoreline of Ryerson Park. We never gave the park's name a thought. Even five months ago, the idea of having to rename this special park was rebuffed. So here we are.

I participated in a town inclusivity committee focus group last week. Congrats to facilitator George Webber for quarterbacking a very useful meeting. Twelve very diverse personalities showed respect and kindness, and the goal is action, soon.  

Perhaps kindness should be the overarching word we all remember, as we create Canada's history.

Carpe diem.