Kenneth Roberts in Current News: Rick Salutin’s “Simcoe Day”

Today’s installment of “Kenneth Roberts in Current News” comes to you from http://www.rabble.ca in an article by Rick Salutin titled “Simcoe Day: How Should We Celebrate a Myopic Vision of Canada,” published on 8/4/2014. The subject of the article is John Graves Simcoe who, according to wikipedia.org, was a British army officer and, from 1791-1796, the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada. Simcoe was also instrumental in helping establish what is now Toronto and in “introducing institutions such as the courts, trial by jury, English common law, freehold land tenure, and the abolition of slavery” (wikipedia.org/wiki/john_graves_simcoe).

Salutin’s article provides a brief summary of Simcoe’s contributions to Canada, as well as his tribulations. In addition to the accomplishments listed above, Simcoe was “accused of atrocities, always hard to sort out in wartime, like massacring prisoners and trying to assassinate Washington” (Salutin, para. 4). After being captured in the British defeat at Yorktown, he was shipped back to England where he married an heiress and began his political career. He would eventually seek to make Canada a recreation of “genteel English society,” which would serve as a “beacon for the U.S., who’d forsake their own revolution and rejoin the Empire” (Salutin, para. 4).

Earlier this year, AMC aired Turn: Washington’s Spies, which tells of”‘America’s first spy network'” during the Revolutionary War. In the show, Simcoe is depicted as a “magnificent British villain…he sneers, he taunts, he tortures, he kills” (Salutin, para. 2). Salutin confesses that, despite being an “Ontario history buff,” he was not aware that Simcoe was a player in the American Revolutionary War (Salutin, para. 2). Yet, he was aware of the United Empire Loyalists – those Americans who settled in British colonies (in particular Canada) during or after the Revolutionary War (wikipedia.org/wiki/united_empire_loyalists).

Salutin recounts that he first heard of the United Empire Loyalists and their creating “Anglo Canada after the revolution” from Kenneth Roberts’ Oliver Wiswell which he read when in high school. He also notes that he read Rabble in Arms as well. An interesting connection between Simcoe and Kenneth Roberts that Salutin brings out is that Simcoe “took over a renowned/infamous unit called Roger’s Rangers (Roberts also wrote a novel on them) and renamed them the Queen’s Rangers. Their colours sit in Fort York today” (Salutin, para. 3).

Salutin’s description of Roberts does little justice to Roberts’ contribution to American history and historical fiction writing. Salutin says of Roberts: “Roberts was a cranky conservative in the heyday of American liberalism” (Salutin, para. 2). While Roberts’ cantankerousness and his strong conservative views are well-documented, Salutin’s description really accomplishes nothing in his brief discussion of Roberts works; I fail to see what connection he tries to make here.[1] Nevertheless, I believe that Salutin highlights a point about Kenneth Roberts’ works – despite their having been written over a half-century ago, they are still of historical value even today. While Roberts’ conservative views may be outdated, the historical contribution he made to American history stands the test of time.

Though Salutin laments how Canadians sometimes have to learn from Americans about Canadian history, I appreciate his article, for its Canadian author has taught this American something he did not know about American history.

 

[1] Rick Salutin’s bio on rabble.ca states that “he is a strong advocate of left wing causes” (http://rabble.ca/category/bios/contributor/columnist/rick-salutin). It’s common when one writes on someone of opposing views to make some remark that distances himself from his subject. Perhaps Salutin’s comment is such an attempt. Still, his remark does not serve the point he seeks to make, particularly in the paragraph in which his remark occurs. It is true that one cannot separate the subject’s personal beliefs and views from their works, there are instances such as this where can focus on the subject’s work apart from their overarching worldview. If the article touched on issues of race and immigration (issues on which I strongly disagree with Roberts), for instance, then it would be fair for Salutin to make the remark he does in “Simcoe Day.”

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