When John Joe Went to the Waterfront

The CBC is reporting that “Native activist John Joe Sark wants to change Founders’ Hall to reflect the Island’s Miꞌkmaq heritage.” The response from the Capital Commission, through their Executive Director, is:

“Unfortunately, history is such that Aboriginal people were not invited to the table,” she says. “Founders’ Hall acknowledges that, acknowledges the fact that they were not invited, nor were women invited. You know, that’s history and we can’t rewrite history.”

While I agreed with the substance of what Green says, it does beg the question: why have we built a monument that pays homage to a racist, sexist event in our history?

Indeed perhaps we would learn more about ourselves as a society if Founders’ Hall abandoned its rather pointless elevation of the “Fathers” (do rich white men from two centuries ago really need more deification?) and rather concentrated exclusively on that selfsame exclusion of women and aboriginals from the process. I think that the social, cultural, and political forces that allowed for that exclusion are far more worthy of examination, discussion, and public display.

Of course that wouldn’t “sell well” to the bus tours.

And that’s the problem when tourism, rather than building a civil society, is the guiding force behind institutions like this.


Rob MacD's picture
Rob MacD on March 12, 2004 - 04:47 Permalink

I don’t think it’s a fair question you ask, Peter. I don’t believe that Founder’s Hall pays homage to racism and sexism, as you imply. I think it pays homage to an event of (questionable) historical significance that took place in an era of racism and sexism. If the event itself was racist and sexist, it was so because of the time in which it took place.

Oliver B's picture
Oliver B on March 12, 2004 - 07:17 Permalink

Not that I’ve been inside the place, but I’m afraid I agree. The natural extension of your argument, Peter, seems to be that the only museums and monuments we should build are ones devoted to societal wrongs, and not until we accomplish something that’s perfectly enlightened and egalitarian from all perspectives should we celebrate or congratulate ourselves. I think you’ll probably agree that if society doesn’t honor the small steps forward it takes, then ever getting anywhere becomes at least a little less likely. Anyway, you might be wrong when you say a museum about historic discrimination wouldn’t appeal to tourists: My understanding is that the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. attracts a lot.

Marcus's picture
Marcus on March 12, 2004 - 14:12 Permalink

Are we suggesting some historical revisionism to account for the atypical Canadian societal guilt complex?

Founders Hall was vetted by national historians and ethno-historians. The simple, yet regrettable, explanation for the lack of First Nations content is the Euro-centred development of Canada from Jacques Cartier (or Leif Ericsson) to present and which will continue well into the future.

If you want to get really philosophical and look at the existential position of the history of nation-states vs. that of the geography they sit upon, then Founders Hall is more-or-less correct in depicting the lead-up to the 1864 Conference, and subsequent creation and development of Canada.

If you want the comprehensive version of human history in the northern part of our continent, as opposed to the Much Music version that Founders Hall offers, you’d need a heck of a bigger building and corresponding vision.

IMHO, the old C.N.R. shops should have become the farmers market — think of how much usage it would get from residents and visitors alike if it were open 7 days/week, similar to the Saint John City Market.

Or, even better, maybe we could stop erasing history to depict other histories, and this building could have retained its railway connection by becoming the Charlottetown branch of the Elmira Railway Museum.

It all won’t matter anyway, with climate change and rising sea levels (1+ metre by 2100) submerging the entire tourist area of the Charlottetown waterfront in the next century. The land where the railyards are located, and the Maritime Electric generating station are all sitting on reclaimed land….

Founders Hall, content controversy aside, is a symptom of the larger problem of typical shortsighted CDAC/Capital Commission & Provincial Government/City of Charlottetown lack of strategic planning and catering to the tourism market.

Nils Ling's picture
Nils Ling on March 12, 2004 - 18:23 Permalink

Gotta say I’m with Rob on this, Peter. In some ways, this has a similarity to the debate (again, provoked by John Joe, whom I admire greatly for his singularity of purpose, even if I don’t always agree with him) about the pageant scene in Anne of Green Gables — The Musical. John Joe felt it portrayed a demeaning image of First Nations peoples, and he was absolutely correct. What he missed — and seems to be missing here — is that it also accurately depicted how things were, as opposed to how they should have been.

Founder’s Hall — useless, unimaginative monument to token government spending though it might be — depicts accurately an event in Canadian history in which wealthy white men determined the political course of Canada. Things are much better now, of course.