102. I Couldn’t Make this Up!!!, May, 2014
So, it’s Sunday morning. I have not yet run to Hancock Grocery to pick up the Sunday NYTimes. What to read as I eat my Sunday morning bagel and await Susan’s rising??? I know, the May issue of Down East. Good companion when the best one is still sleeping.
I soon arrive at an article entitled, “A Reverberating (sad pun) Question”. Being a philosopher I am a sucker for reverberating questions so I read on. Turns out the question is the perennial one: whether or not we can trust the Canadians!!! (Even Aristotle would find this of interest.)
In the instant case, the question is occasioned by Gouldsboro’s possession of a 158 year-old brass bell. The question is whether it ought to be loaned back to the slippery Canadians as they celebrate the birth of their nation.
Perhaps a bit of history is in order. Canada’s “Declaration of Independence” was forged in Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island. [See the post script below to clarify this bit of Canadian History.] The conference that turned into their 1776 took place between September 1–9, 1864. (Canadians were a bit slow to the party.) Delegates were transported to the convening aboard the SS Queen Victoria. Because there was a circus in town (the first in more than 20 years) few accommodations were available. Most delegates stayed aboard the Queen. Indeed, the agreement to declare independence seems to have been forged during a “champagne-soaked” luncheon in the stateroom of the Queen.
Two years later, on October 4, 1866, the SS Queen Victoria was caught in a hurricane off Cape Hatteras and lost at sea, but not before the hardy crew of the Gouldsboro, Maine-based (and built) Ponvert, under the command of Captain Rufus Allen rescued its Canadian captain and 41 crew members — as well as its almost 80-pound bell. In gratitude (a typically Canadian sentiment), the Canadian crew presented the bell to Captain Allen, (not anticipating what jerks Allen’s descendants would become).
Upon his retirement in 1875, Refus, (having, in the best American tradition, no clue as to its historic significance) gave the bell to Prospect Harbor School, where it was used for many years to signal the start of the school day. Used until, that is, “It was removed when the building and belfry were considered too unstable [foreshadowing] to support its weight.” After which time it was entrusted to the good ladies of the Prospect Harbor Woman’s Club and displayed in a proper glass case.
In the 1980’s several unofficial attempts were made to regain possession of the bell by Canadian interests that styled themselves as “patriots”. This led to concern among Gouldsboro townsfolk about the possibility of a clandestine Canadian raid (by the crack Canadian special force “Beavers” — analogous to our Navy Seals).
Tempers flared. As one stout Gouldsboroian, Selectman Hammond, said at the time: “That bell’s gonna stay here. I don’t think the Canadian government has any right to ask for the bell back.” That sentiment was echoed by Sylvia Smith, President of the Prospect Harbor Woman’s Club, “I used to ring that bell when I went to school as a girl. I don’t see where they think we should give it them. It was a gift to us.” Speaking in 1988 about those who could see some merit in the Canadian request, Sylvia was succinct: “They’re not natives of this village. They just don’t feel the same way about it.”
To forestall any such raid, the bell was deeded to the town of Gouldsboro and locked up in the safe at the town office.
Meanwhile, Gouldsboro residents came up with a fiendish plan to fool the gullible Canadians by giving them a fake (reproduction of the) bell.
An ugly international crisis was averted.
Hold that thought: Mainers defending their rightful treasure against misguided Canadians.
Now roll the clock forward 26 years to a new generation of Gouldsboroians defending the bell. The Canadians, thinking there is something of significance in the founding of their preternaturally civilized country, want Gouldsboro to loan them the bell for their sesquicentennial celebration of independence. Note: the request is no longer to give, just to loan. Nonetheless, as you might imagine, the good citizens of Gouldsboro are alarmed. Rumors once again circulate of a Canadian “plot to steal the bell”. The used-to-be British are coming; “One if by land…”
One of Gouldsboro’s latter-day minutemen, (whose clock works are perhaps a second or two short of a full minute) complains, “We have a selectmen who comes from out-of-state…[i.e.who cannot be trusted and whose judgment is flawed],… who doesn’t give a hoot about our history, and he doesn’t see why the bell cannot be loaned for nine months.” (Her brother used to ring the bell at Prospect Harbor School at the start of day.) “I don’t want them to have it for as much as nine hours.”
“The bell is a prominent symbol of Gouldsboro’s seafaring and shipbuilding heritage,” she said. “We won’t get it back.”
Upon reading this I immediately deduce, that this carpet-bagging selectman must be my friend, Roger. And so it is. (Some of you at San Diego State will remember Roger Bowen when he visited a few years ago as General Secretary of the American Association of University Professors.)
And, sure enough, the next line (Down East being dedicated to balanced journalism) has Roger’s response: “Yes, I am in favor of lending the bell,” Bowen said. “I think it is the neighborly thing to do. It costs us nothing, and in return it generates enormous goodwill.”
“I sometimes think people are accusing me of having a logic attack … and I plead guilty.”
Down East tells us that Roger is inclined to believe Jean-Francois Lozier, curator at the Canadian Museum of History when he writes, “I can assure the people of Gouldsboro that neither the museum, nor the Canadian government, would try to confiscate the bell. It will be returned.”
Down East further points out that our U.S. National Archives will be lending the original Webster-Ashburton Treaty (that established the boundary between Maine and New Brunswick in 1842). But then, that generousity is perhaps easy for the National Archives since as part of the federal government, our they have access to tanks, cruise missiles and Navy Seals –just in case.
P.S. A Canadian friend of mine reminds me that Canada did not declare “independance” from Great Britan in 1864–7. (I should have suspected that Canadians were too civil to do so.) There follows excerpts from a discussion of “Canadian History” from Wikepedia”
The Seventy-Two Resolutions from the 1864 Quebec Conference and Charlottetown Conference laid out the framework for uniting British colonies in North America into a federation. They had been adopted by the majority of the provinces of Canada and became the basis for the London Conference of 1866, which led to the formation of the Dominion of Canada on July 1, 1867. The term dominion was chosen to indicate Canada’s status as a self-governing colony of the British Empire, the first time it was used about a country. With the coming into force of the British North America Act (enacted by the British Parliament), the Province of Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia became a federated kingdom in its own right. (According to J. McCullough, use of the phrase “Dominion of Canada … was gradually phased out” during the “late 1940’s, 50’s, and early 60's” with the growth of “post-colonial Canadian nationalism”.)
Federation emerged from multiple impulses: the British wanted Canada to defend itself; the Maritimes needed railroad connections, which were promised in 1867; British-Canadian nationalism sought to unite the lands into one country, dominated by the English language and British culture; many French-Canadians saw an opportunity to exert political control within a new largely French-speaking Quebecpp. 323–324 and fears of possible U.S. expansion northward. On a political level, there was a desire for the expansion of responsible government and elimination of the legislative deadlock between Upper and Lower Canada, and their replacement with provincial legislatures in a federation. This was especially pushed by the liberal Reform movement of Upper Canada and the French-Canadian Parti rouge in Lower Canada who favored a decentralized union in comparison to the Upper Canadian Conservative party and to some degree the French-Canadian Parti bleu, which favored a centralized union.
Following the Balfour Declaration of 1926, the British Parliament passed the Statute of Westminster in 1931 which acknowledged Canada as coequal with the United Kingdom and the other Commonwealth realms. It was a crucial step in the development of Canada as a separate state in that it provided for nearly complete legislative autonomy from the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Although the United Kingdom retained formal authority over certain Canadian constitutional changes, it relinquished this authority with the passing of the Canada Act 1982 which was the final step in achieving full sovereignty.