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I regret my 100 Huntley Street book

The evangelical history that Paul Knowles wrote 36 years ago haunts him to this day.

By Paul Knowles

In 1982, Canada: Sharing Our Christian Heritage first appeared in print. It’s an anecdotal history of this country produced by Mainroads Productions Inc., the publishing arm of the iconic evangelical television show 100 Huntley Street. The book promoted a narrow, judgmental and skewed view, in which white Christians were the good guys and everyone else was a lost, legitimate target for missionary work. This flawed history often cherry-picked facts or relied on flimsy evidence to support the central assertion that Canada was built by Christians — something the book says “we have forgotten” in our “pluralistic, secular society.”

How do I know about this deeply inaccurate book? I wrote every word of it. In the early 1980s, I worked in the communications department at 100 Huntley Street.

Admittedly, this so-called history book is now ancient history in its own right. Thirty-six years later, Mainroads and its parent company, Crossroads Christian Communications Inc., no longer produce it. So why does it matter today? First, copies of the original book are available through online sellers and the Toronto Reference Library. Second, representatives of 100 Huntley Street continue to recommend the book as a reference. It was also cited on longtime host David Mainse’s blog as recently as 2017. Third, and perhaps most importantly, it has been reprinted by Voyageur Publishing, an Ontario company that provides “quality curriculum and resources” to home educators and private schools.

Voyageur’s promo blurb calls my book, “A very good introduction to the Christian history of Canada, and an essential part of a balanced look at our foundations. This book can be added to any curriculum in order to make our children aware of our many Christian historical figures.” No, it’s not. And no, it shouldn’t be. (I wrote Voyageur last year, asking who gave permission for the reprinting, but received no reply.)

Arguably, some of the flaws in the book are due to the times in which I wrote it. The text was issued 14 years before the last residential school closed and just as environmental issues were becoming more well known. While that may offer some justification for my ignorance — and suggest that the original publication may not be the evil it now seems — it’s certainly no excuse for printing the book in 2018.

The book is not a pack of lies — the anecdotes are usually accurate — but it is a pack of half-truths.

I should have known better than to write it in the first place. Over the years, my perspective has changed, largely because of personal reaction to social issues. Today, as an active member of the United Church, my priorities include inclusiveness, social justice, feminism and reconciliation. It’s clear that the author of Canada was at best almost completely ignorant about these things.

But the people reprinting, selling and using this book don’t appear to have learned enough yet. Consider the question of our responsibility to care for the environment. According to Canada, “Our predecessors . . . subdued [the country’s] forests, climbed its mountains and mined its depths. . . . Many Canadian explorers and pioneers endured the hardships and dangers because they shared a vision for a land peopled by Christians whose society would truly be under the dominion of their Creator.”

Wow. In one paragraph, I ignored responsible environmentalism, dismissed the rights of Indigenous peoples, skipped over the flaws of European newcomers and created a theological justification for colonialism. I’m left breathless by my own audacity.

And where are the women in our nation’s history? Well, they largely function in one of two roles in this book: as wives heroically supporting the work of their missionary husbands, or as nuns engaged in health care and education.

Perhaps most embarrassing is the complete lack of multicultural sensibility. Take this excerpt: “Almost every aspect of Canadian life, from agriculture to urban planning, from education to culture, from peacemaking to peacekeeping, has been shaped by Christians and their commitment to a God-centred Canadian nation.” Really? Everything we are and have, we owe to a ubiquitous determination on the part of Canada’s “founding fathers” to keeping it Christian?

I am ashamed of how Canada deals with Indigenous people. In the book, I approvingly quote Samuel de Champlain, who used the word “savage” to describe an Indigenous person. Then I offer this opinion: “There have been, especially in more recent days, those who argue that mission work from the time of Champlain until now have [sic] been a direct attack by the white man on Indian culture. However, there are many native people who will . . . stand firmly on the side of the missionary efforts.” The book supports this contention by citing one Cree man who calls Indian beliefs “witchcraft.” This is the stuff that led to residential schools.

Blatant prejudice aside, Canada is, frankly, bad history. It buys into the “great man” theory, introducing without question so-called muscular Christians. Two troubling examples are Anglican missionaries John West and William Carpenter Bompas. The book approvingly reports that West “initiated a system of general education for native people, on the premise that children educated by Christians would be both educated and evangelized.” Although you would not learn it in this book, Bompas founded a residential school in the Yukon that was known for harsh discipline and disease.

The book is not a pack of lies — the anecdotes are usually accurate — but it is a pack of half-truths. Some missionaries were well-intentioned; some were monsters. Some Europeans came to Canada with innocent purpose; some slaughtered Indigenous Canadians. Some political leaders sought to build a great nation; some only worked for the betterment of white Christian men. Canada: Sharing Our Christian Heritage has little to do with sharing this country or with authentic Christianity. It has no balance and thus no integrity. It should not be reprinted. In truth, it should never have been written in the first place.

Paul Knowles is a writer in New Hamburg, Ont.

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