Gerry Turcotte

Gerry Turcotte

Gerry Turcotte is the president at St. Mary's University in Calgary.

The discovery of 215 bodies of children in unmarked graves on the site of the former Kamloops Residential School in British Columbia understandably triggered a national response of outrage and mourning. Less understandable is why this particular discovery has unleashed an outpouring of grief and accountability by community leaders and politicians when the evidence of these atrocities is so well known, and when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Report highlighted this issue for special mention.

 It has become commonplace to speak of our current reality as “a time like no other.”

In At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past, Roger Ekirch discusses a practice in the early modern era whereby Western Europeans divided their nights in two, with a “first sleep” until midnight, and a later “second sleep” running through until morning.

Growing up in Montreal, with a mother who couldn’t speak French and a father who couldn’t speak English, I had an uncanny understanding of the power of words.

In The Idea of a University, John Henry Newman (now Saint) outlined his vision of a liberal education that spoke of the virtues and purpose of a university. Originally an Oxford man, his famed conflict at Oriel College — where he argued with the Provost that a tutor needed more engagement with undergraduates — resulted in Newman being cast out of his beloved institution and turning instead to a life of research.

Recently I was listening to a report that explained why margarine was bad for you, which concluded that we would all be much better switching to butter.

An early December editorial cartoon struck a sympathetic chord with me. It depicted a weary Father Time, sitting at a bar and pleading to be relieved of duty early. Enough is enough, his hoary visage seemed to say.

At breakfast recently my daughter noted that my cardigan made me look like an academic. As a professor I wasn’t sure how to take the comment. But I admitted that the first thing I did when I began teaching in a university was to rush out and buy a tweed jacket with patches on the elbows.

COVID-19 has triggered many things, some of them predictable, many not. Who, for example, would have guessed that the first major response to the virus would be panic buying of toilet paper? A rush on cellphone cases and Lego were two other unexpected results of the pandemic. Apparently, our behaviour has become so unusual that it is negatively impacting artificial intelligence algorithms, with one AI consultant claiming that “automation is in a tailspin.”

In a wonderful essay written in 1919, “Das Unheimliche,” Sigmund Freud proposed a theory of the uncanny to explain the sense of unease and even terror that can arise when something presents itself to us as strangely familiar, but not quite.

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