Why giving civic space its indigenous name is everything and nothing
I’m not usually one to quote books because I rarely remember them, but I’m going to do it here. It’s from Wayne Johnston’s tale of Newfoundland, The Colony of Unrequited Dreams:
“Every morning, before work, using the oilcloth as my model, I drew the map of Newfoundland. My goal was to be able to draw it as well from memory as I could draw the map England. For the longest while, after I began drawing Newfoundland, it was the map of England I saw when I closed my eyes at night, as though my mind were sending forth this primary shape by way of protest — which it needn’t have bothered doing, since England had been so early imprinted on my brain that no amount of drawing other maps could supplant it.”
The instant I read that passage I highlighted it, wrote it down, made sure I would be able to access it because it resonated so deeply with me.
In Unrequited Dreams, British teachers make it very clear to their pupils in Newfoundland that England is the heart of civilization, of history, and that nothing to come from the colonies will ever be as good. To reinforce that, they elevate English writers, leaders and even geography as far more important than anything of local concern.
Unlike the novel’s protagonist, I was not made to draw a map of England every morning while attending school. But the imprint of England, and of other, more exciting and important places, imprinted itself on my mind at a very early age.
This sense of European superiority is no longer as blatant in Canadian society, but Canadian inferiority certainly is. Whether we’re discussing comedy, music, film, food or virtually anything else, a nagging question in the Canadian mind is “are we good enough?”
I believe that question, that doubt, comes from the importance we place on the cultures and histories of other places over our own. Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with knowing about the rest of the world- in fact, it’s essential. But often that knowledge comes at the expense of knowing anything of ourselves.