By Emily Stonehouse
We’re all allowed to make mistakes. Allowed to not know everything that may traipse on toes and ruffle feathers along the way.
But the way we raise our kids is that once you know better, you do better. And it really is okay not to know. But once the facts are presented, once the truth comes to light, you now have the choice to make things right.
I guess Dysart council never got this memo.
And yes, this is an editorial sparked by the recent decision made to keep the name Sam Slick Park. And since the tiny plot of land resides in the geographical boundaries of Haliburton, I recognize this may not seem like a Minden issue.
But in reality, the changing of historical names is a conversation happening all around us; blurring lines and cracking open parts of our history that are far from prideful.
In April of 2022, Ryerson University’s board of governors unanimously approved a motion to rename the facility “Toronto Metropolitan University”, effective immediately. The change came in light of learning that Egerton Ryerson, the namesake for the facility, was instrumental in developing and supporting residential schools across Canada.
Once the reality of the bloodied past emerged, the school officials knew better. So they did better.
When the Cultural Resources Committee brought the truth to Dysart council last week, identifying the reality of Sam Slick – a character created by Thomas Chandler Haliburton who was sexist, racist, and just generally disgusting – they were seeking an opportunity to do better. To acknowledge the past, yes, but to move forward in a way that is inclusive and non-offensive.
Suddenly, Dysart council knew better.
But did they do better? Absolutely not.
“It was supposed to be satirical” they chimed. Like they were all in on the joke. And just because they’re not at the butt end of it, it rolled off their backs like water droplets on a duck.
But the reality of the fact is that honouring a person who hurt others still stings. Celebrating a character who caused harm isn’t doing better.
And I am not trying to erase history. We can’t sweep the grim realities of our past under the rug and pretend we’ve always been this community that exudes inclusion and non-bias. Because that’s not the reality of the world.
But we are all learning. All navigating the muddied history and figuring out ways to create a world that’s more inclusive, supportive, and kind. We are knowing better, so it’s time to do better.
As we move forward with naming and honouring spaces in this town, maybe we take a good hard look at who we are celebrating. Whether we choose to honour the Indigenous people who walked here before us, or the firefighters who have saved lives, the teachers who have shaped our kids, the artists who have added colour to our world, or the people who make our community kinder.
When we have so many options, why opt for a racist, bigoted cartoon character from a century ago? What message are we choosing to celebrate with that?
We know better, so it’s time to do better.