Edward Cornwallis, Gary Bettman, and Vlad the Impaler

The Cornwallis statue thing was in the news again with public hearings and mostly middle-aged to old-aged white guys moaning that by not placing the filthy racist’s statue in a public place we are turning our back on our heritage.
I didn’t really think too much about Edward Cornwallis when I grew up here. I didn’t know we had a statue of him and I wouldn’t have cared if we didn’t have one.
It’s fashionable to make fun of “participation trophies,” which are somehow destroying Western civilization. I can’t think of something that is more of a participation trophy than a statue for doing your job.
He just seemed to be to a Gary Bettman. Bettman was recently inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Everyone who heads the NHL eventually lands in the Hockey Hall of Fame, for basically doing their jobs. Not every goalie or centre is in the Hall of Fame, only the all-time (the standards have been diluted but that’s a column for The Hockey News not Halifax Magazine) greats. But the commissioner gets automatic entry into the Hall of Fame for showing up to get booed at a Stanley Cup ceremony.
So I just figured Cornwallis was a Bettman, a mostly harmless guy who was told to start a fort in our general area and did it. I didn’t know he was a filthy genocidal racist. (Cornwallis, not Bettman). Now after learning a little history, a little of “our heritage.” I think of Vlad the Impaler.
You can’t judge people by the standards of our time, it is often said, and I have some sympathy for that argument. But then, because of the protests about the statue, I learned that Cornwallis wasn’t really a Bettman, he was more of a Vlad the Impaler.
Can you imagine how many people Vlad the Impaler would have had to impale to get the title, Vlad the Impaler? It’s not as if he were the only person going around sticking sharp sticks into folks. He just did it so much that he got the name. He gave other impalers cover.
Nowadays, because impaling has fallen out of fashion, we forget how much impaling was going on in the 1400s. And let’s not forget, much like with a collision between an SUV and a pedestrian, there are two sides to every story. Sure, someone stuck a sharp stick through a person, but that person who was impaled did nothing to prevent it.
I picture a Rick Howe type show in the 1400s. (For those of you not from Halifax reading this, first of all, why? And second of all, Rick Howe hosts a call-in show during which we citizens are often exposed to the truth about vaccines and the flatness of the earth from his informed listeners). I can hear the callers on an Open Hour phoning in to say that a lot of the people who get impaled deserve it. Have they tried making eye contact with their impaler?
I’m not a historian but I’m 80% sure that the sobriquet ‘The Impaler” wasn’t given to Vlad ironically, say like “Little John, who the legends say was actually quite large. I can only imagine that Vlad got tired of the nickname as one does. It must have been a bit of a drag at the class reunion.

Classmate: Hey, hey, it’s THE IMPALER” How you doing man?
Vlad: I’m not really into impaling anymore. I’ve moved on.
Classmate: Ha ha, right. Sure, IMPALER. *punches Vlad in the shoulder*
Vlad: No really, I’m into this new thing where I starve small rodents, blind them, and them jam them into every conceivable orifice of my prisoner. The screams you hear are way more satisfying.
Classmate: Okay, whatever, IMPALER.
Vlad: Sigh, I knew I shouldn’t have come.

Obviously the above is not historically accurate. No one voices the word “sigh” out loud.
Why write a few hundred words about Vlad the Impaler for a magazine about Halifax? What’s the connection between Vlad the Impaler and the Warden of the North?
The defenders of Cornwallis point out that he basically did his job and set up a colony here. Sure he ordered a genocidal killing spree and was a filthy racist, but everyone was a genocidal filthy racist then. We can’t judge him by our standards!
And maybe it’s not fair to call Cornwallis a fllthy, genocidal racist. For all I know, he bathed frequently. But for his time, he went above and beyond. A lot of racists could say, look I may be a racist, but I’m not like that Cornwallis guy. He was a heck of a lot closer to being Vlad the Impaler and not a Gary Bettman.
So let’s not have the statue of Edward Cornwallis displayed in a prominent public place. In fact, I wouldn’t even put Cornwallis in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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