The shifting sands of history: Just as the words we use to describe our past change, so too does our understanding – by Robert Fulford (National Post – March 15, 2016)

Word has seeped out of Ottawa that the citizenship guide for new Canadians, Discover Canada, will soon be rewritten by the still newish Liberal government.

With education mainly in the hands of the provinces, this is a rare chance for the federal government to express itself on the nature of Canada and its history. There’s no doubt our past as seen by the Liberals will turn out to be subtly different from the version the Conservatives published.

You may find this process scandalous, politics intruding where it shouldn’t, but experienced readers of history will see it as the normal evolution of opinion. The past has a way of changing. Annoyingly, it won’t stay past. We constantly re-examine it, adjusting our views in the light of newly acquired data and newly adopted passions.

Long-dead villains of the past can be turned into heroes, or vice versa. In 1885 Canada executed Louis Riel for leading the North-West Rebellion. After that, much of Canada began to see him as a religious fanatic who believed God had chosen him as a leader of the West.

But by 1992, history had so thoroughly rehabilitated him that Parliament unanimously declared him “a founder of Manitoba.”

When we go to school we learn that history is a set of facts set down in books. We assume that if we read the books carefully we’ll know the facts, and possess them as long as our memory lasts. But those who rely on history, especially the history of conflict, eventually learn they are standing on shifting sands.

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