Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

How Canada's mighty have fallen

Honourees held racist views

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OTTAWA -- At least a dozen Canadians who've been formally recognized for their historic significance -- including a past prime minister -- harboured racial attitudes that would be deemed unacceptable today.

A review of Parks Canada's roster of 648 persons of national historic significance turned up several outspoken anti-Semites and others who championed scientific racism known as eugenics.

Earlier this month, the Canadian Jewish Congress declared it will oppose official recognition of former Ottawa mayor Charlotte Whitton because of her role in keeping Jewish children out of Canada during the Second World War. Whitton, the first woman to serve as mayor of a Canadian city, was nominated last year for her pioneering work as a politician and feminist.

In July, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada made a confidential recommendation, which has been forwarded to the government for a decision.

The CJC argues Whitton's anti-Semitic views and actions should disqualify her from official recognition. However, an Ottawa Citizen review suggests espousing and acting upon racial or religious intolerance has not impeded recognition in the past.

One honouree, Goldwin Smith, a journalist and historian who died in 1910, was a virulent anti-Semite who helped shape Canada's intellectual life.

His anti-Semitic writings influenced two key political figures who have also been declared historically significant by Parks Canada -- William Lyon Mackenzie King, Canada's longest-serving prime minister, and Henri Bourassa, a Quebec politician.

King's role in keeping Jewish refugees out of Canada is documented in None is Too Many, a 1982 book by Irving Abella and Harold Troper -- the same book that described Whitton's successful efforts to deny admission to Jewish orphans.

Bourassa, who died in 1952, shared the anti-Semitism that was rife in French Canada in the early 20th century.

None is Too Many also reports that Vincent Massey, Canada's high commissioner to Great Britain during the war years, "worked through External Affairs to keep Jews out of Canada."

Massey later became Canada's first native-born governor general and was recognized in 1974 for his historic significance.

Advocates of eugenics are also well-represented on the roster of historically significant Canadians. Eugenicists advocated selective breeding of human beings to improve the species. Eugenics was popular in the early part of the 20th century, but was discredited after it was associated with Nazi Germany.

In Canada, the Famous Five -- the feminists now lionized for their role in having women legally recognized as persons -- were champions of eugenics and advocated the forced sterilization of those deemed unsuitable.

The five -- Nellie McClung, Emily Murphy, Irene Parlby, Henrietta Muir Edwards and Louise McKinney -- are among the 648 Canadians honoured for their historical significance.

All these figures were "very prominent and important in their day," said Robert Bothwell, an eminent historian at the University of Toronto.

If their recognition is meant to represent what Canada was, Bothwell said in an email, "then all these people should be commemorated."

"As the war museum controversy some years back should have demonstrated, history is not a series of pleasant bedtime stories, pre-sanitized so that only the worthy appear in order to make our hearts thump with a patriotic pit-a-pat."

-- Postmedia News

 

Dishonour roll

 

THE following have all been designated persons of national historic significance:

 

The anti-Semites

 

Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King

Date designated: 1967

Smith strongly influenced the way Canada's 10th prime minister looked at Jews. The 1982 book None is Too Many assigns King ultimate blame for keeping Jewish refugees out of Canada during the Nazi reign of terror in Europe. Before the war, King had a sympathetic view of Adolf Hitler, describing him as "sweet" and "a very sincere man." As late as September 1938, King wrote that Hitler "might come to be thought of as one of the saviours of the world."

 

Vincent Massey

Date designated: 1974

As Canada's high commissioner to Great Britain, Massey was "to say the least, no partisan of Jewish immigration," according to None is Too Many. After Germany annexed Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia in 1938, Massey urged King to accept "as many as possible Aryan Sudeten Germans." It would be much easier, he told the prime minister, to deny admission to Jewish immigrants if Canada admitted "political refugees from the Sudeten area."

 

The eugenicists

 

Nellie McClung

Date designated: 1954

A member of the Famous Five, McClung campaigned for sterilization -- especially for "young, simple-minded girls" -- as a Liberal member of the Alberta legislature. Her efforts were vital to the passage of eugenics legislation in 1928, allowing the Alberta government to perform involuntary sterilizations on those classed as mentally deficient. Nearly 3,000 were sterilized before the legislation was repealed in 1972.

 

-- Postmedia News

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 23, 2010 A7

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