You think you have made it as a “Canadian”. Look again
by Torny Nardi
TORONTO - "Joyce Pillarella, a historian who focuses on Montreal’s Italian community, said it is upsetting that the city would place greater importance on a gift from Quebec City than on its artistic history. She said people of non-French background are already under-represented in the city’s place names, making the removal of a prominent Italian-Montrealer hard to swallow. ‘There’s a lot of ethnic washing going on here,’ she said.”
Let’s be clear. This action is taken in preparation for the celebration of Montreal’s 375th anniversary next year. In other words, according to the City, there is no place in Montreal’s 375-year history for supposedly, “one of Canada’s greatest religious artists”, Guido Nincheri.
If anyone cared to look into Québec/Montreal’s history, they’d see that this recent action by the municipality of Montreal is part of a long tradition.
In 1925, the City of Montreal ordered the removal of a statue of Giovanni Caboto, with the inscription: “Founder of Canada”, erected by Montreal’s Italian community. The City government argued that John Cabot was English, not Italian, that the statue and inscription would confirm the English as legitimate founders, and strip and erase the glory of the true founder of Canada, Jacques Cartier (who set foot on the shores of Newfoundland in 1534 - almost 40 years after Caboto).
Furthermore, the anniversary of Giovanni Caboto fell on June 24, a day dedicated to Québec’s patron saint: John the Baptist. The Caboto statue was removed.
An Italian-language community newspaper editorial warned the City of Montreal that by failing to record history correctly Canada would increasingly travel a dangerous path and create, more and more, a two-tier Canada: one Canada reserved for the English and French; the other Canada, the lesser Canada, for all the other ‘ethnic’ communities.
This is why, in Montreal, there is almost no reference to “John Cabot,” taught to us in high school, by the way, as an English “explorer.”
Québec marks its beginning of history at 1537. Jacques Cartier. Period. For almost 500 years English Canada has been teaching that the first European to discover North America, in 1497 (some say 1494) was English explorer John Cabot.
That Norse explorer Leif Ericson apparently got here 500 years earlier, and that indigenous people were here long before him is not the issue. That Cabot was not English is.
That he was, in fact, an Italian navigator and explorer from Venice whose trip was sponsored by the English and that he planted at least two flags (Venetian, English) when he touched our eastern shores, and possibly four (including Irish and French), has been generally acknowledged and documented only in recent years.
Some Allophones, like some of your “Anglo wannabe” letter-writers, fail to understand that, from an Anglophone and Francophone perspective, what recently happened in Montreal is not egregious in any way, even though it’s probably actionable and merits a constitutional challenge.
Would the Italian community care enough about rights to foot the bill and make sure that they are not violated by any level of government?
What good is a Constitution that contains Equality Rights (s.15) and a section 27, which reads, “This Charter shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians,” if even the minimum guaranteed under that supreme law is not respected?
Consider, for example Malcolm X, in 1965, in his delivery of his "House [Slave] v. Field [Slave]” story. For those Americans – including Afro-Americans – who pointed to the equality attained in the country since so many had now moved into the “house”. Malcolm X, argued that the only thing changed was the location of residence. “You” were still a [slave] to the “white man”, a better class maybe, but…
The protestations offered by defenders of the Prime Minister’s selections in the recent Senate appointments, and their assertion that Italian Canadians have attained equality in this country, are consistent with those hurled at Malcolm X in the 1960s.
Montreal City Council’s decision regarding Guido Nincheri should serve as a reminder that progress is slow indeed. Rocco Galati understands this. How many others do?
(The letter has been edited)
(Wednesday 30 November 2016)