Do we remove the past or learn from it?

Laurel Beechey, The World is a Stage

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CBC recently showed five plaques around Toronto with historic names – each honoured and remembered by street names today – that were slave owners.

To many this is a shock. But it shouldn’t be if you know your history.

Today we are rightly disgusted that people owned people. I agree. Petitions have started to have the street names changed. I don’t agree.

In fact, I was thrilled when CBC reported that Essex County Black Historical Research Society president Irene Moore Davis (who is Black) was sent a photo of these plaques by an acquaintance who noticed Davis was quoted on them. In the interview it was noted Davis thinks people will be better educated with more context and education.

“Unless it was something like a Confederate general statue, which nobody needs to see in a public place… I’m in the mind that we educate people better by adding to what’s already there.”

I personally believe that you should not change history to hide slavery, but do as Irene said and add all the facts to it.

Remember, in the 18th century it was not illegal to own other people. Slaves were not only kidnapped Africans, they were debtors and war prisoners, too. Slavery was a ‘normal’ part of life from virtually the beginning of time through biblical times until the late 1700s when abolitionist movements began. It took many years – into the early 1800s – before the slavery mindset really began to change.

In Tillsonburg we have Bidwell Street, named after the Bidwell family in Upper Canada. Our founder George Tillson decided to preserve the name, presumably, for what was known about them at the time. If you research Barnabas and Marshall Bidwell, you would wonder why. They did fight for good changes, but they were also aliens and criminals who went back to the U.S. Did Tillson use their name so people would remember the bad as an example to others? Probably not, how would they even know with no paparazzi or news broadcasts? But today we can add to that history so people understand the good they did and what they should not have done.

In your own family genealogies do you want to remove forever the forefather who came to Canada and pioneered your own dynasty and destiny because he owned a slave? I wouldn’t, but I would use the fact to teach the forthcoming generations. There is good and bad in everyone which must be recognized, weighed, forgiven, and used if possible to teach right and wrong no matter what the situation.

Let us not forget that our generations are not saints. Don’t forget that Canada’s indigenous residential schools didn’t close until 1996.

It is time to think about what is happening. Do we remove the past or tell all the history so others can learn from it.