Here is our question for today.
Should the Charles Morris House — a down-at-the-heels, 240-year-old wooden structure that once served as the headquarters of Nova Scotia’s chief surveyor, but today sits, forlorn, beached and abandoned in a downtown parking lot — be resurrected and spiffed up to serve as a living memorial to the man who is credited with laying out Halifax’s original streetscape -- can you say Granville, Argyle, Hollis, Grafton streets, et al -- and property lines --including landmarks like Grand Parade and St. Paul’s Church -- which survive today?
Morris went on to serve as our province’s chief justice. Not to forget fathering future surveyors who took on the continuing task of mapping and shaping today’s Nova Scotia.
Or should this dilapidated old eyesore of a building be demolished instead, perhaps even burned to the ground as a final public acknowledgment of — and overdue mea culpa for — the reality that the self-same Charles Morris also played a role in the brutish expulsion of the Acadians.
Katie Reid votes yes to the latter option. Intriguingly, Reid is the “eight-generations-removed” granddaughter of the man himself. She says her family discovered a Morris family history in her grandmother’s attic that shows Capt. Charles Morris took part in planning the expulsion of the Acadians, helping devise a scheme “to break their dykes, to burn the fields of crops they’d grown, to burn their homes… Maybe they should burn down (the Morris House) instead.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, Peter Delefes disagrees. The president of the Heritage Trust Society of Nova Scotia, which saved the building from the wrecker’s ball in December and still hopes to see it made useful again, acknowledges Morris did play an “unfortunate” role in the expulsion. But he is quick to note “other important historic figures also had a hand in that whole process, but I don’t think we condemn them on that basis.”
Actually — and unfortunately — we’ve already begun to do exactly that more and more often.
Consider Edward Cornwallis. The once-deified founder of Halifax is now the subject of a persistent campaign to strip his name from public buildings, statues and even street signs because of his treatment of natives.
Or, to go further afield, Christopher Columbus himself.
Perhaps it’s time we stopped needing to see our historic figures in such stark either-or terms, and publicly celebrate their accomplishments while acknowledging — in equally public ways — their shortcomings. That way we can have our history and swallow it, too.
Stephen Kimber, the Rogers Communications Chair in Journalism at the University of Kings College, is the author of eight books.