Letter: May Day has been reduced to a skeleton and I blame New West politicians


It is frustrating to have to justify and defend a historically important, joyous civic event to local politicians.

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The current, diminished status of May Day needs to be reversed and its former civic prominence on the city's social-scape needs to be restored. 

Just last week, in response to a May Day question that was asked at a recent school parent advisory committee meeting, the attending school trustee (one of our five new first-term trustees), stated that all responsibility for the event sits with the district superintendent and his staff. This statement is misleading and just plain wrong.

With all that has transpired over the last number of years, it is hard to say whether her comment was part of an on-going anti-May Day campaign, perhaps yet another strategy to create distance between politicians and the event itself, or if it was simply a genuinely naive and misinformed rookie response.

Whichever it is, the truth of the matter is that the survival or the demise of this long-standing celebration is entirely contingent on the discretion and leadership of our locally elected politicians - all of them - Board of Education school trustees and mayor and city councillors.

To think about it logically, given the calibre and competence of our professional city and district staff, if they were directed to host a “successful” event, I absolutely assure you it would be just that - it would be a hugely successful event, very much the way it used to be when our civic politicians fully recognized the value of honouring our past and strengthening community ties for the future.

Clearly, that's not the case right now and so I ask, sincerely, how often do we think about those who came before us, who walked our streets, sat on our park benches, laughed, rejoiced, and struggled to raise their families?

The pioneers who worked to make this city better - better for themselves and for those of us who now walk and shop and work and grow up here.

Building community then meant survival and it's a concept that withstands the test of time. The authenticity of their efforts have poured into our lives and we need to honour that.

For well over 100 years now, if you were a student in New Westminster, you grew up with May Day memories.

Originally as a successful "celebration of community" intended to inspire the civic pride of New Westminster residents and the school pride of our New Westminster students, May Day was the highlight of our civic event calendar.

It is interesting that even today, when socializing with a New Westminster cohort, should the question of where one attended school arise, more often than not local folk usually reply with the name of their elementary school. And in the reminiscing that follows, May Day is always a defining event of their New Westminster memories.

Without question, the enduring legacy of our May Day tradition is that it has created a very special and unique bond between multiple generations of our city's residents. The fact is, as many of our elected folk can attest to, you don't have to have roots here in order to love here. More importantly, you don't have to have roots here to make roots here and, like our predecessors, contribute to the social fabric of our New Westminster community.

In recent years, there has been a deliberate push to focus on contrived negatives, a purposed campaign to end May Day and I am sad to say, it's been an effective distraction from the positives of continuing the tradition of bringing our community together.

I don't know whose brainchild it was to assign such red-herring labels like "colonialism" or "paganism" to our May Day in an effort to discredit the celebration, but to do so is a misapplication of those concepts on both a historic and a conceptual level. 

Of the many generations of school children who skipped onto the stadium field to dance a folk dance or make ribbon patterns around a May Pole, I don't think that even once there was a single instance of one of those children even knowing those terms, let alone understanding them. I know that me and my schoolmates sure didn't. We were just happy to be there, excited and proud that it was our turn to represent our school.

It was just about a year ago that I attended a school board meeting to address the piecemeal dismantling of May Day and stated: "If May Day were a person, I would advise it to get a lawyer and argue constructive dismissal." Even then, if someone had told me that we would be hosting a “skeleton” May Day to mark 149 years of tradition, I wouldn't have believed it.

The echoes of our past are loud and they are strong - the good and the bad - we learn from them and we build on them. I appeal to the Board of School trustees and to mayor and council - don't kill May Day because there are aspects of it that don't appeal to you, issue new directives, transform it into something higher. As community leaders, you have an obligation to give it meaning and dignity - your constituents and the children of New Westminster deserve that kind of effort and validation from you.

Lisa Graham, New Westminster


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