Lord Durham reported missing

But portrait and historical panel will reappear - and acknowledge his agenda for French Canada

Rébellions 1837-2007

It has not been determined whether Lord Durham is actually spinning in the grave in which he has lain the better part of two centuries, but he's been causing something of a stir of late.
He was baptized John George Lambton, but he's better known by his title, a name that to Québécois minds lives in infamy.
So it was bound to get some backs up in Quebec when Ottawa recently hailed him as a hero.
There is no greater anglo bogeyman in Québécois lore than Lord Durham, a 19th-century British colonial governor of what were then the Canadian colonies.
He served in that office for less than four months, from May to September of 1838, but what is remembered even more than the man himself is his famous report on the rebellions in the colonies the previous year in which he advised that French Canadians should be assimilated into a single Canadian English-speaking society.
He compounded the proposal with insult, calling French Canadians a group with no culture or history, not quite up to the standard of the "English race."
That's the part that Ottawa's National Capital Commission forgot to mention in a tribute to local historical icons, including Durham, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the city's selection as Canada's capital.
It justly praised Durham as an architect of Canadian union and representative democracy. His portrait was mounted on a construction-site hoarding alongside Queen Victoria, who made the designation of Ottawa official, and Canada's first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald.
But leaving out the bit about assimilating French Canadians raised eyebrows among Ottawa francophones and drew a blast from separatist agitator Gilles Rhéaume in the name of a group calling itself the Association des descendants des Patriotes. He called on the prime minister to withdraw "this homage to the greatest francophobe in Canadian history" and a propagator of "cultural genocide."
The tribute "constitutes an insult to all the world's francophones and a veritable provocation," he thundered.
Yesterday, the portrait was taken down, though officials said it was not in direct response to Rhéaume's rant or any order by the PM. An NCC spokesperson said there would be an addition to the interpretive panel to acknowledge the assimilation proposal.
Academics, even francophone academics, tend to go a little easier on Durham than Rhéaume.
He was a leading liberal of his time and an enlightened proponent of democracy in British colonies, so far out front on that score he was was nicknamed "Radical Jack" by his peers.
Had it not been for the assimilation bit, he was someone Quebecers might warm to. Simply put, he sincerely believed anglicizing French Canadians would be in their best long-run interest.
"There are a lot of things to be said about Lord Durham," said Université du Québec historian Eric Bédard. "But it should at least be mentioned that he proposed the union (of the Canadian colonies) to put an end to the vain national aspirations of French Canadians. The objective was to assimilate them."
The Ottawa commemoration coincides with this month's 170th anniversary of the Patriote rebellion in Lower Canada - a Quebec revolt against autocratic British rule that was matched by a similar one in Upper Canada, as Ontario was then known.
Durham's report on the outbreak called for the colonies to get what the rebels fought for - responsible government, which was achieved a decade later.
The Patriote revolt is being marked by an exhibition at the Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History at Pointe à Callière in Old Montreal, which opened last night. Among the artifacts on display is an original copy of Durham's 1839 report.
"Their fight contributed to the reform of democratic institutions in Quebec," said city councillor Catherine Sevigny, representing Mayor Gérald Tremblay.
For better or for worse, Lord Durham had a significant hand in that as well.

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