What’s in a name

By Jenn Watt

It’s a safe bet that most of us living in Haliburton haven’t cracked open a copy of The Clockmaker recently – or ever. The satirical book by Thomas Chandler Haliburton, after whom the town is named, was written in the 1830s and isn’t on any bestseller list, or propped up in the windows of the local library branches or bookstores. The name of the main character of the book, however, does have a prominent place in the village at a park named in his honour.

Sam Slick Park is a small greenspace across from the high school featuring a scenic view of Head Lake, an array of natural vegetation that visitors can read up on, and across a dry-stone bridge, a bench to sit on and watch the sun come up. The park also includes a plaque with information on Haliburton the man and says Sam Slick Park is “to commemorate Judge T.C. Haliburton author [of] The Clockmaker.”

The Sam Slick character has rarely, if ever, figured into conversations around the town, likely because the book isn’t readily available. If it were, you can bet more people would be talking about it and taking issue with the name of this little park.

That’s because The Clockmaker is riddled with racism. The N-word is used regularly along with degrading depictions of Black people. The passages are so hurtful, even with the N-word removed, it is inappropriate to reprint them in this newspaper.

Richard Davies, a professor at Acadia University, wrote in his biography of T.C. Haliburton: “Haliburton’s books are filled with language that disturbs and offends,” noting that many professors now find his works “unteachable.”

“Anthologists in the present day are hard pressed to find a passage of The Clockmaker that will not offend our sensibilities. This is not simply a case of unfairly censuring the values of the past. Haliburton alludes to the [N-word] whenever he wants to remind Nova Scotians of how low they have fallen,” Davies writes.

A municipality in Nova Scotia that formerly celebrated Sam Slick Days has been grappling with these depictions for more than a decade, changing the name of their festival in 2009 and last month deciding to remove all Sam Slick imagery from the town.

It isn’t about erasing history, the town councillors said, it was about what we choose to celebrate.

In Haliburton Village, we’ve been unintentionally celebrating a work of literature that is deeply offensive. Because most of us hadn’t read the book, we didn’t know that, but now we do.

Let’s choose to celebrate something uplifting, welcoming and inclusive instead. Let’s choose a new name for the park.