It’s Always Year Zero in Canada

Premier Dalton McGuinty is going to consider the appeals of those who want to rename the Kingston-to-Toronto section of the King’s Highway No. 401 as the “Highway of Heroes“.

While I’m all for honouring our war dead, this is a profoundly stupid idea.  The highway already has a name—it’s called the Macdonald-Cartier Freeway, after the two most famous Fathers of Confederation, Sir John Alexander Macdonald and Sir George-Étienne Cartier.  There’s frickin’ signs all over it to that effect—or at least there were, before we decided that maintaining history wasn’t worth the effort.

It’s bad enough that the nation and province intentionally raise our children to be cultural and historical amnesiacs.  Have we learned nothing from the last time a political buffoon decided to rename a Canadian landmark with a more hip, contemporary name that the kids might know?

Macdonald and Cartier may be forgotten to us now, but without their efforts, we would not have the nation that we enjoy today.  Slapping new names on already-designated landmarks is cheap, shoddy and shameful.  You may as well scrape the dates and inscription off of our enormous Boer War memorial and rededicate it to a more recent conflict.  After all, there are no surviving veterans, and what schoolkid today cares about the Boers or the geopolitics of the former British Empire?  Only 8,600 Canadians served, and 277 died—and their memorial is grander than Old City Hall’s cenotaph memorialising the two World Wars and Korea.  Who’s going to care?  What’s the big deal?

The manner and method in which a society honours the achievements and sacrifice of its sons and daughters is important.  The success or failure to maintain their legacy says a lot about the regard that successive generations hold for them.  In a hundred and fifty years’ time, no one will recall why we gave the “Highway of Heroes” its name.  And some retard will eventually want to rename it to honour something more contemporary.

I don’t think our soldiers, sailors or airmen would appreciate that very much.  You want to honour them?  Put up a huge memorial along the original “Highway of Heroes” — University Avenue.  It is the route to the Legislature, the location of the demolished University Avenue Armouries, and the home of many of our larger memorials to wars and public figures.  It was, in a very real sense, conceived to be the province’s epic, memorial thoroughfare from the outset.

But please, for the love of God, get an architect that knows how to properly honour those who served.  Nothing facile and meaningless like this.

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2 Responses
  1. Gorthos says:

    Funny, I read about this on today and wrote the Premier about it. As an ex-mil guy who’s whole family is ex-mil and who’s family have been in Ontario since 1778 I told him that we should not rename it. The term hero when thrown around like purple hearts during vietnam, lessens its meaning and durn it all, the highway has a name. this isnlt to say that people who join up and go overseas aren’t doing so with great intentions and those that die did so with honour in their hearts, its just to say that HERO is a term reserved for someone who goes above and beyond their role. A soldiers role is to soldier. Sounds cold, but a lot of my mil friends dislike civvies throwing around the term like they do and I agree.

  2. Nathan B. says:

    I completely agree, Chris. Well said.
    By the way, in the ancient Near East, kings who put up monuments used to conclude their messages on the monuments with a curse on whomever would alter or destroy those monuments. Perhaps Sir John A. should have done the same.