Chicklets, I was in a church last night — for a rock concert! Well, not really rock, more like earnest clever-but-slightly-granola folk music. I never did get why the show was at a church because last time I saw the artist in question it was at a normal nightclub. But whatever, it was fun! We sat in pews and people (other people!) smoked pot. The juxtaposition was thrilling.
Before the show started, I noticed a big marble plaque on the wall that was a memorial to 19-year-old George Courtland Noxon, who “accidentally drowned while on duty at the internment camp, Kapuskasing, Ontario, MDCCCCXV.”
I didn’t know if this was an Anglican or a Catholic church, though I suspected Anglican because — call me crazy — they seem more amenable to renting their churches out for rock shows than, you know, the Catholics, who are currently too busy ejecting gays from the seminary and telling women in Africa not to use condoms to book their spaces out to outsiders.
I turned to Mr. Mock, and said, “what does MDCCCCXV equal?”
“1915,” he said, squinting at the plaque.
“But who was being interned in Canada in 1915?” I said. Mr. Mock did not know, which is itself kind of remarkable, because he usually knows these sorts of things.
“I love that it’s called the internment camp,” I said, “like there’s only ever been one in the world.” The proverbial march of history is interesting, because of course the people who made that plaque could not imagine a future in which we’d need to narrow down exactly which internment camp you were talking about. And how sad that there are so many possibilities.
It turns out that there was indeed a camp in this northern Ontario railroad town, where Ukrainians and Turks and Austrians were interned. Some of them are buried in a cemetery there, while this boy who guarded them was shipped home and memorialized in his church. It is interesting how similiar the words “interred” and “interned” are, no?
Meanwhile, nearly a hundred years have passed and we’ve all forgotten. Sitting in the same church, the crowd is mostly aging hippies and Serious Young Women. There is one (a Serious Young Woman) in front of me wearing a sweatshirt that says, “One Act Play Festival, 2001” on the back. She doesn’t seem the actor type, so I imagine that she wrote and/or directed a one act play in her junior year of high school – which would make her 20 now.
I imagine that the play might have been about an historical injustice that we’ve all long since forgotten, because this is a category that Serious Young Women are inevitably attracted to (I can say this, having been a Serious Young Woman myself). Like maybe the internment camp in Kapuskasing, Ontario, during World War I. Perhaps sections of the play were even told from the point of view of one of the guards, an innocent young boy from Toronto, who had nothing against Ukrainians –- hadn’t even met any, probably –- but was just doing his duty. When he accidentally drowned (in a well? who knows?) it’s easy for the audience to see how the pointlessness of his accidental death is mirrored by the pointlessness and cruelty of the whole exercise.
Kapuskasing, Ontario, it turns out, is also the hometown of James Cameron, director of movies like Titanic and The Terminator. He was born in 1954, almost 40 years after George Noxon died. I am not trying to make a point here, just an observation. Or maybe the point is just that life goes on, the narrative keeps rolling.
And aren’t we lucky? Aren’t we unnaturally blessed, sitting in this hotboxed church, glorious stained glass windows soaring up into the winter night? Aging hippies, earnest girls (and lots of boyfriends taking one for the team): we’ve all forgotten that anyone was interned in Ontario in World War I (when was that again?) because we’re safe and dry and our ethnic backgrounds have been muddled up enough that no one knows or cares who among us is Ukranian. No one is paying attention to the plaques on the wall. Because it’s the early 21st century and we have the luxury of forgetting. We’re just here to hear some good music.