Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The Forks a place for fun and life

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I quite like Allen Mills, enjoy his company and I'm always pleased to publish his stuff, which is consistently provocative and incisive.

That doesn't mean I always agree with Allen, and I certainly don't agree with his glib dismissal of a water park at the The Forks.

"Would you put a water park at the gates of Auschwitz?" he asked in a one-sentence letter to the editor Friday.

I suppose, if he thought about it at all, he thought he was being arch, perhaps droll and I know that others thought it very clever.

But I found the one-liner offensive and sneering. And in aid of what?

I've been to Auschwitz, with Elie Wiesel and several hundred Jews. I would not dream of -- cannot countenance -- blithely demeaning that place or that experience to riposte against proponents of a water park, of all things.

But it's not just letter writers who seem to have lost perspective. That Auschwitz and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights are somehow equivalent has been an undercurrent running through criticism of the water-park proposal for weeks.

But they are not equivalent. They are opposite.

Auschwitz was a slaughterhouse where 7,000 people for four and half years killed and cremated one million Jews and 100,000 non-Jews.

It is a stain on, a corruption of, humanity. It also is a profoundly spiritual place, awesomely sorrowful and tragic beyond measure.

The museum, on the other hand, is an architecturally magnificent place where thousands and eventually millions will be able learn of, yes, the horrors of human rights degradation, but also the glory of human rights affirmation.

The pious sanctimony that some attach to the museum simply misses the point. The Forks was never intended to be a place for hair shirts and flagellation and the arrival of the museum should not change that. The children's museum is not going anywhere, nor are the boat rides, the skateboard park, the outdoor performances, the fireworks, the buskers the happy throngs.

This week, a midway has been set up across from the museum. A photo of it on the front page of the Free Press captured perfectly what has been happening, and should continue to happen, at The Forks. It's a meeting place, not a funeral parlour.

If people insist on it becoming a morbid place they do a disservice to The Forks, the museum and themselves.

The Forks is about life, good life -- free life. And that is what the museum must be about if it is to have any useful impact on humanity. A water park filled with happy children is a splendid response to inhumanity.

That the proposed water park might be too small is something to debate, as is its design. That it will offend museum visitors is ridiculous and elitist.

gerald.flood@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 28, 2012 A19

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