Neil (@sarahdaddy) asked in a comment a few days ago where I stand on the question of romanticizing Pembroke, compared to its history.
I understand the desire to create a utopia where everything is beautiful on a sunny summer (fall or winter) day and there isn’t any poverty or racial issue but some things existed that we can’t ignore…I would be curious if you had ever given thought to this or other “realities” we tend to ignore.
Prototype modelling is a form of history, and as historians our role – in fact our responsibility – is to face the ugliness alongside the beauty. To sweep objectionable parts of history under the rug is to deny their existence and I think then perpetuate the underlying ugliness. Owning up to the fact that we are not perfect, that we have been (or are!) racist, that there is poverty, that many are disenfranchised is the first step to reconciliation. From there, perhaps we can do something about it.
In terms of Pembroke, the first thing that Neil’s question brings to mind is the Golden Lake Reserve, which was at the other end of the Pembroke branch. A quick Google brought me to a virtual museum site, which contains many photos of the Algonquins of Golden Lake, and of these, the above is the best. In the timeframe of this photo (1890, according to the caption), we were a mere 10 years into the Indian Act, which effectively imprisoned First Nations people on reserves, while simultaneously forcing them to assimilate western culture. The people on the church steps above are wearing their Sunday finest because they aren’t allowed to wear anything else!
Maybe one day I will model Golden Lake and portray its people sincerely and sensitively, but there are decisions within Pembroke itself that are as difficult, although less politically charged.
The Pembroke Southern pushed its way into Pembroke merely six years before my model timeframe. The embankment on which the railway sits was still a soil-less scar, except where there was a culvert near the Mary Street bridge. The river itself was choked with snags and the detritus of logging. In a word, the landscape was ugly.
I’ve always been tempted to grass over that bank, but thanks to Neil and the Algonquins of Pikwàkanagàn, I’ve reflected further: no, turning the river bank into a bucolic paradise would be dishonest and disrespectful to the sacrifice that built this country. When I finally get back to scenery, it will be gravel.