Gateway Gazette

So Long Hector-Louis Langevin: Wiping Away a Nation’s History

For the crime of being a man of his times, Canadians are being asked to wipe the memory of Hector-Louis Langevin – a Father of Confederation – clean

By Gerry Bowler
Centre for Public Policy

WINNIPEG, Man. /Troy Media/ – “We do not allow the dead to rise up against us. … You will be lifted clean out from the stream of history. Nothing will remain of you, not a name in a register, not a memory in a living brain. You will be annihilated in the past as well as in the future. You will never have existed.” – George Orwell, 1984

In the year 610, Emperor Flavius Phocas was overthrown in a military coup. He was stabbed to death and beheaded by the man who usurped his throne. But his enemies did not consider that sufficient punishment. As an act of damnatio memoriae, the Roman tradition of dishonouring the losers of history, his statue in the Hippodrome was knocked over and publicly burned. The very name of Phocas was scratched from monuments, his portrait busts were smashed and literary works that praised him were consigned to the flames. It was if he had never existed.

This sort of induced historical amnesia is not uncommon. At the Cadaver Synod of 897, the body of Pope Formosus was exhumed, dressed in papal finery, set up on a throne and put on trial for perjury. The corpse was found guilty, stripped of its vestments and the three fingers of his right hand (used for blessings) were cut off. The remains were then cast into the Tiber and his reign, with all of its acts and decrees, was declared invalid.

If you go to the Doge’s Palace in Venice and consider the portraits of the city’s rulers, you will find them all in chronological order until you come to the place where you would expect to see that of Marino Faliero, elected in 1354. Instead of his likeness, you will behold only a black pall and the words “Hic est locus Marini Falethri decapitati pro criminibus” (This is the spot for Marino Faliero, beheaded for his crimes).

In the 20th century, Kremlinologists had a hard time keeping up with the Soviet personalities who achieved high office but somehow earned the wrath of Josef Stalin. One day, they’re a member of the Politburo, a famous poet or a marshal of the Red Army; the next day, they’re given a bullet in the back of the head and their names are erased from Communist Party publications, with photographs altered to show that they had never – despite what witnesses might remember – reviewed the troops in Red Square, been acclaimed a Hero of Socialist Labour or stood beside Vladimir Lenin during the revolution.

Unfortunately, Canadians are not above this sort of thing. Now is the turn for Hector-Louis Langevin. For the crime of being associated with the Indian residential school system, his name is to be stripped from one of the buildings on Parliament Hill. Although he was a Father of Confederation, an architect of a nation spanning half a continent, the political class of today deems him unworthy of being remembered. Never mind that his ideas were utterly respectable in his day and shared by those who are, for the moment at least, still allowed to be memorialized – Sir John A. Macdonald, Archbishop Alexandre-Antonin Taché or Sara Riel, for example – they are now considered shameful.

The irony is that this brouhaha will not obliterate Langevin from public memory; thousands now know more about his life and works than they did a month ago.

But oblivion is not enough for today’s signallers of their virtue. They want to go beyond Orwell’s novel 1984, past amnesia into disgrace. They want to dishonour Langevin and those who were of his opinion – and by extension, anyone today who opposes current Liberal aboriginal policy.

As Orwell told us: “You will be annihilated in the past as well as in the future. You will never have existed.”

So long, Langevin!

Gerry Bowler taught history at the University of Manitoba for 25 years and is a senior fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

© 2017 Distributed by Troy Media

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  • Susan Raby-Dunne , July 16, 2017 @ 10:15 am

    I don’t have a problem with renaming things that had/have the Langevin name on them. Just like the Confederate flag in the southern states, and statues of guys like Nathan Bedford Forrest who started the Ku Klux Klan- go ahead and teach all about these people in history for sure. But these symbols/people are an affront to every person of colour in the U.S.A.

    In Canada, teach about the fathers of Confederation and what they did, the good and the bad. But if I were indigenous, and even me, myself and I’m not, I don’t need to see someone who said the following honoured in this way.
    “The fact is if you wish to educate these children you must separate them from their parents during the time that they are being educated. If you leave them in the family they may know how to read and write, but they still remain savages, whereas by separating them in the way proposed, they acquire the habits and tastes — it is to be hoped only the good tastes — of civilized people.” – Hector-Louis Langevin

    There was no policy more “savage” and this, or more devastating to generations of indigenous people the fallout of which goes on today. Imagine having your own children arbitrarily, and by law, taken away at age 5 or 6 by people claiming to ‘know better” than you! I would lose my mind.
    Hitler was a man of his time too. He took what was an onerous, and unfair debt of Germany’s for the entire Great War, and turned it and the bitterness over it to his advantage. Shall we name buildings and bridges after him, too? Ask the Jewish people of Europe if they mind.
    Dont erase these people from history for sure. But don’t honour them either.

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