Monday, March 21, 2011

Why Are Educated Immigrants Not Real Immigrants?

Michael Ignatieff is angry this week, and so am I. In an attempt to write his own narrative after months of the 'Harper' government attempting to write it for him, the Conservatives went on the attack suggesting that his family were not immigrants in the traditional sense, in part because they were educated.

Their other comment spoke of wealth, but as former members of the Russian Royal Family, fleeing the Revolution, they came to this country with nothing. And Canada was wise to accept them.

I'm going to share some research I've done on this exodus later, that included the family of someone else you might be familiar with. A man named Wayne Gretzky. But whether pauper or prince, those fleeing the Revolution, arrived with the same empty pockets.

Education does not guarantee success. It's what you do with it that matters.

The attack by the neocons, centred on Michael Ignatieff's father George, one of Canada's longest serving diplomats. But had it not been for his grandfather, the family may not have even made it here. What saved him from execution was the fact that as minister of education in Russia, he had made many improvements to their educational system.

So when a geography teacher heard of his arrest, he rallied his students in protest, and his life was spared. But not his possessions. They ransacked his home 17 times, even making off with the clothing of his five children. (1)

However, the other side of Igantieff's family, has a story that also needs to be told. Part of the broader narrative of a family that rose from little to become integral in the history of Canada.

His maternal grandfather, George Munroe Grant, was the son of Scottish immigrants. His name is spoken with reverence by the families of other Scottish immigrants proud of their heritage:
An educational institution of Scottish origin is Queens University in Kingston "the Aberdeen of Canada," founded largely through the dreams (and hard work) of noted scholar George Munroe Grant.
The Queen's journal speaks of Ignatieff's journey to rediscover his past:
It begins with the story of legendary Queen’s Principal George M. Grant, who set out with Sir Sandford Fleming in 1872 to map out the railway line that would link Canada ocean to ocean. Ignatieff retraces Grant’s journey, seeing the country through his ancestor’s optimistic vision, and tracing how that vision filtered through his illustrious family tree.
George Grant did not come from money, but had a mother determined that he receive a good education. After attending Pictou Academy he received a scholarship from the Presbyterian Church to study in Scotland, and on his return was given the Parish of St. Matthews in Halifax.

But he was no ordinary preacher:
Grant was effective in implementing typically evangelical solutions to the social problems of Halifax. He was involved in the direction of the School for the Blind, the Halifax Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, the Children’s Home and Child Immigration Schemes, the Old Ladies’ Home, the Halifax Industrial School, the Halifax Visiting Dispensary, and the Young Men’s Christian Association, and helped raise money for them.

In addition, St Matthew’s Church supported a city missionary, James S. Potter, who provided relief to the poor and operated the Night Refuge for the Homeless. But Grant did not consider such works the means to salve the bad consciences of the rich. He preached frankly to his congregation of merchants and shipowners on the relationship of labour and capital and denounced men who made money by risking the lives of their crews in unseaworthy hulks or saw charity at home as a substitute for justice at sea. (2)
And he was no ordinary educator:
Grant is the most important of all Queen's Principals. More famous in his day than any Queen's Principal before or since, Grant transformed the university in his 25 years of leadership (1877-1902) from a struggling denominational college into a dynamic national institution.

...The Cambridge classicist Terrot Reaveley Glover, who began his career at Queen’s, wrote of Grant that “it was yet no small part of the education that Queen’s gave to associate with a man of such outlooks, such range and such political integrity. . . . Teacher, builder, driver – call Grant what you will; he saved the University from intellectual ruin as surely as he did from financial; and, with all his limitations, his presence, his word, his glance, were inspiration.” (3)
And his son William Grant, went on to become not only a professor at Queens University but Principal of Upper Canada College. And his daughter Alison would marry George Ignatieff.

The Conservatives may be sorry for this latest blunder, because dammit, now we can tell the story of Michael Ignatieff and it won't be bragging. The Ignatieff/Grant names are about as Canadian as you can get, because they are immigrant success stories, as all Canadian stories are.


1. The Russian Album, By: Michael Ignatieff, Penguin Books, 1987, ISBN: 978-0-14-317165-2

2. GRANT, GEORGE MONRO, Dictionary of Canadian Biographies, 1901-1910 (Volume XIII)

3. The Rev George Monro Grant (1835-1902), Queen's Encyclopedia

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