David McConkey - Columnist, Consultant, Citizen
Columnist. Consultant. Citizen.

Remembering F.A. Rosser, Wondering About Earl Oxford

Brandon Sun, July 20, 2020 – David McConkey


This is such an interesting time; my mind is overflowing with observations, concerns and questions. Here are three that I am pondering right now.

REMEMBERING F.A. ROSSER

The recent public conversation about whether to rename Rosser Avenue brings to my mind the legendary Brandon Sun editor Fred McGuinness. I think he would have been delighted by the debate!

McGuinness died in 2011 at age 90. I got to know McGuinness only in the last few years of his life, but I had admired his writing and now hold a memory of him as a continuing inspiration.

McGuinness loved the city and the people of Brandon. One of his pet peeves concerned Brandon street names: he thought more of them should be reflective of the city, especially its history. So McGuinness would be all for folks learning more about Brandon and its past and talking about our community becoming the best it can be.

Rosser Avenue was named after Gen. Thomas Lafayette Rosser. He was an American Confederate general before he worked for the CPR and selected the site for the future city of Brandon. Rosser was later fired from the railway for improper land dealings. So Rosser was a racist and a scoundrel as well!

But sometimes I think we need to embrace the complexity, nuance and messiness of our past and present, like Rosser Avenue. Name a main street after our city’s founder? Most appropriate. Tell the story of that founder, with all their blemishes and foibles? Perhaps even more appropriate. That reminds me again of McGuinness – he so much enjoyed a good story!

By the way, from the late 1960s until he retired in 1987, McGuinness wrote a thrice-weekly community news column in this paper. Penned under a pseudonym, the column was called “Sunbeams.” For his nom de plume, McGuinness used the Brandon Sun’s location at Fifth and Rosser, shortened to F.A. Rosser.   

WHO WAS EARL OXFORD?

We often take for granted what is right around us. The other day I got thinking of the name of the school at 18th and Victoria. Who was Earl Oxford? I could not find anything about him on the Brandon School Division website. But the city’s Heritage Brandon website says the school was named after H.H. Asquith, who was U.K. Prime Minister from 1908 to 1916 and who had the title of the Earl of Oxford. Asquith died in 1928 and the Brandon school was built the same year. I suspect that timing was a prompt for the name: Earl Oxford School.

So, come on, Brandon School Division, let’s highlight the positive! How good a life did the earl live? Did he go beyond the strictures of his time (imperialism, racism and all that) and develop a more ethical perspective? Did he have any association with Brandon? What was admirable about him that a school in our city should be named Earl Oxford?

Here is an opportunity for learning – and maybe even for inspiration – both for the students attending the school and the citizenry as a whole. And if it turns out that Earl Oxford is not the best appellation for a Brandon school, changing the name would involve much less fuss (and signage) than a do-over of a major artery like Rosser Avenue. A community challenge to come up with a better moniker – I can imagine McGuinness relishing the fun!

But first, over to you, Brandon School Division! Who was Earl Oxford? We want to learn!

WHAT A YEAR!

This has been such a momentous year that it is hard to believe that 2020 is only half over! There are many unanswered questions as we look ahead. How will the pandemic and the accompanying economic, social and psychological impact play out? What will be the result of the current U.S. social unrest? How will the discussions of the many topics on hand – like racism, and others set aside, like global warming – be resolved? And, of course, will the Trump era come to an end or will it endure for four more years?

As we tackle current issues, I long for public discourse with more humility and less insulting; more listening and less “cancelling”; more deep reading and less social media. Civil exchange of diverse views even when some ideas may be considered offensive? There is already an excellent model available for general application: the newspaper opinion page.

And, finally, I am trying to remember to always look on the bright side. As McGuinness pointed out, even though the world may be dark, we can still share the “sunbeams.”

* * * *
See also: 

“Memoir Man” a Born Storyteller

Reflecting on Big Questions

Look at Broader Context Before Removing Building Names

What's in a Name?

 

QUICK CONTACT:

David McConkey,
Brandon, Manitoba
204-726-9440
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