Monday, July 28, 2008

For this post, I'm sorry

Tom Ford--not with the New York menswear icon Tom Ford--rallied against Lake Winnipeg's bucolic little cottage enclave Victoria Beach in the comment page of the Free Press yesterday.

There are two things worth noting. The first is that Einfeld's Bakery is not two decades old, but more than seven--it first opening in 1934, and continues to be owned by the Einfeld family today.

The second is to the nature of asking the today's 'leaders' of Victoria Beach to issue some kind of public show-poligy for restricting Jews up until the 1940s, and to the nature of these kinds of apologies in general. For any publication that pre-dates the Second World War to criticize another publication of the same vintage for their perspective on ethnic matters seems a little odd. Early in the last century, the Free Press itself wrote many an editorial grading the quality of immigrants to Western Canada, from most desirable (British) to least (Slavic). (The Winnipeg Telegram was much more severe in its diatribes against "the scum of Europe". While they went out of business in 1920, I'm sure the descendants of their editors can still be found somewhere and apoligize...)

While restricting Victoria Beach to Jews was shameful to the RM, the cottagers' association, and to the Herald for supporting it, restrictions weren't the exclusive property of VB. Jews still faced official discrimination in many places across Canada at that time. The Town of Tuxedo forbade Jews from owning property there.

And while Victoria Beach is no longer officially segregated by ethnicity, all the popular beaches on Lake Winnipeg are essentially segregated by class and age, by virtue of the fact they are now only accessable by car. Nevermind Winnipeg Beach, the former Coney Island-esque playground of the city's immigrant "working class", even the man-made beach at Bird's Hill Park--20 minutes from the city--can only be accessed by car.

Victoria Beach, 1948

In evil 1943, anyone who could muster up the money for a train ticket could escape the heat of the city by taking a train to one of the popular beaches on the lake. For those that could not afford to own, rent, or camp overnight, the famed "moonlight specials" allowed for day-trippers.

Up until passenger service to VB was discontinued in the mid-1960s, my great-grandmother would take the train up to the east side of the lake just as she had since 1916--by rail. Without a driver's license (this was an era when a car was not yet a prerequisite for city living) she was at the mercy of her sons or anyone else she could manage to get a ride from.

So, too, have kids under the legal driving age--of all classes, but especially lower ones--lose their autonomous access to the Lake Winnipeg beaches. In the 1940s, North End teens saved or came across enough money to go to the beach for the day. Want to know what many teens, only blocks from the CPR line west of Arlington that carried the Moonlight Special to Winnipeg Beach, do on sweltering summer days in the North End today? Just watch the evening news.

Is this is unjust? Sure. Should a future generation apologize for this one day? No. Digging through the past to find things to compel any one particular ethnic or socio-economic whipping boy (in Mr. Ford's case, "WASP" cottagers) to issue a meaningless (but trendy) apology, ensures that we are too busy to ever move on to things newer and better. Things like resurrecting some kind of beach-bound passenger train, or even a regularly-scheduled inter-urban bus to the beach at Bird's Hill Park.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seems to be the norm, we are apologizing for past mistakes all over the place. Why should this be any different.

If he has a point, then apologize. But they should go further and apologize to any ethnic group that the WASP's deemed unsavory and were restricted.


12:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Seems to be the norm, we are apologizing for past mistakes all over the place. Why should this be any different."

...well, for all the reasons the blog states. Regret and apologies are certainly justified from every paper, township and organization that engaged in such discrimination. But what good does it do to go looking for it town by town, corner by corner, when one such town was as bad as another among hundreds?

I think there is a huge difference of degree between the ("trendy?") apology for Residential Schools - a previously hidden, forcible, unacknowledged effort to culturally punish and warp tens of thousands of children - and on the other hand struggling to hunt down every neighborhood that ever had a racial exclusion law. Society long ago acted to remedy the latter, but barely recognized the injustice of the former. A difference of degree, but surely, a difference that matters?

4:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Appreciate what you are saying anonym, but an injustice is an injustice no matter how minute it may seem to a person. Someone at one time was rejected based on his ethnicity and prejudice ruled.

These examples help us to learn from our past. Dusting them under the carpet serves no one. Besides, it is only an apology, which would serve to remind everyone how far we've come in such a short time.

I for one would like history to record how badly immigrants were treated by the "upper crust"

5:17 PM  

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