4 — The Return
I knew that after I had traversed Main Street, I would have a duty to perform.
I would thank the young man at CityTV for his assistance. I would learn that his name was Neels, that he was a recent settler in the old Province of Manitoba, that he came over from Europe and almost immediately became enamoured of the visions of Louis Riel.
Neels performs various jobs around CityTV. Besides being a graphics expert, he has ambitions to create a documentary about Riel, and he, too, one day, will make the pilgrimage to Upper Fort Garry Gate. He should not wait as long as I did.
Meanwhile, I had a rough road to travel. I pushed the pedestrian button on the lamp post and waited for the traffic to respond. Several regiments of traffic ground to a halt. The light turned green. The pedestrian signal began its ominous beeping: the countdown.
I stepped off the curb. Immediately the light turned red. Of course. I squared my shoulders and forged ahead.
You know, when Wolseley and his men rushed through the North Gate, unopposed, Louis Riel galloped out the South Gate on a trusty steed. His Métis companions had already abandoned him, the man who had given them their own country. If you think about it, in both their cases, discretion was the better part of valour.
Now I was using shank’s mare to gallop across Main Street. A trooper sat behind every wheel, gnawing on his bayonet, spurring his war machine, lobbing metaphorical mortar rounds at every pedestrian, and somewhere behind them, Wolseley blasted away on a trumpet. Or maybe it was a horn.
A few hours before, I had been part of that rabble, the 47 out of every 49 people in Winnipeg and elsewhere. I had things to do, places to go. I had a destiny to fulfill. Like them, I was rushing off to push more buttons, to shuffle more paper, to consume more goods, all for the greater glory of Canada. I was urging the sun to accelerate in its diurnal global round. I had no use for history. I had no use for a national historic site. If I’d seen Louis Riel in the street, I might’ve run him over. He was holding up progress.
Progress. Now, what is progress? It might well be, as Riel thought, to create a new country, to open up vast opportunities. Progress might be, as he thought, about inviting the homeless of the world to become our neighbours. And we might agree that progress is cutting and digging and plowing and harvesting the treasures of our region and marketing them, and we just might possibly agree that allowing one’s chief detractor — nay, one’s archenemy — to dream up a national project such as a transcontinental railroad is evidence of progressive thinking.
And progress is recognizing, recognizing, my Friends, that what we have today, regardless of where we live in Canada, could not have happened without what has transpired, over millennia, at The Forks and Upper Fort Garry.
I urge you to make the pilgrimage.
You will have to make it on foot, I’m afraid. You will have to wait for the green light, yes, and then as the light turns red, you will have to forge on.
Because it is just across the street from you. What you are seeking . . . what we are all seeking:
The illumination that comes from visiting our past.
That Grand Illumination.
Last week I found it — again — on Main Street Winnipeg.
What a joy.