“Canada is not merely a neighbour of Negroes.
Deep in our history of struggle for freedom, Canada was the North Star.”
-- Martin Luther King Jr., 1967
Most everyone has heard of the Underground Railroad that brought so many fugitive slaves to Canada, all of them following the hope that was "The North Star".
Moreover, most have heard of stalwarts like Harriet Tubman, a brave conductor on the railroad, and Josiah Henson, the heroic man on whom Harriet Beecher Stowe based "Uncle Tom", both of them working in or out of Ontario.
It is a proud -- if occasionally blotched -- time in this country's history. Since the 1790s, when slavery was effectively abolished in Upper Canada (now Ontario) by Gov. John Graves Simcoe, places like St. Catharines and Sandwich (now Windsor) were Mecca to African-Americans escaping the horrors of slavery.
(A trip to Uncle Tom's Cabin, the historic site of Henson's settlement in Dresden, ON, with its symbols and implements of slavery, should disabuse any believer in the alleged "gallantry" of the Southern cause.)
Today, the North Star is yet again a symbol of freedom, although, perhaps ironically, "Mecca" has taken on a different context.
Literally hundreds of Somali and other Muslims, fearing their future in a Donald Trump America, are taking their lives in their hands to cross the border to the frigid wastes of Manitoba, British Columbia and Quebec to find their own freedom.
They come here as refugees, of course, and are apprehended mostly by border agents and Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers. All will be granted refugee hearings; most, if not all, will likely be granted that status.
It isn't easy. Two men who stumbled in to Emerson, Manitoba, lost all the digits on their hands, save one thumb, to frostbite. It was, so they apparently said, worth it to them.
Others bring in their entire families, complete with baby carriage. Border towns like Emerson are swamped, but are reacting with exemplary kindness and compassion. Food, shelter and help are readily and freely available.
It's not -- as it was with the fugitive slaves -- without its sideshows of horror.
In January, six Muslim men in a Quebec City suburb were murdered and others wounded at evening worship. A "Pure Laine" (literally "pure wool", or ethnic) French-Canadian has been charged.
Meanwhile, a candidate for the right-wing Conservative party (with 14 contenders, it's horribly reminisicent of the Republican Clown Car debacle), has stupidly called for screening of potential immigrants for what she termed "Canadian values".
She hasn't defined what those values are or should be. It'd be nice to think they include the spirit and ethos of John Graves Simcoe, rather than those of someone who would back-shoot people on their knees during prayer. But I somehow doubt it.
If by some horrible circumstance she should become party leader, I can only hope my fellow Canadians will send this demagogue to where she rightly belongs: Political oblivion.
For most of us, in the words of our prime minister, "Welcome Home."