Archives for posts with tag: Mona Parsons

Sad to say, Wolfville Town Council voted on Monday, June 25 to adopt a policy concerning the naming of public places that is a synthesis of a hodgepodge of policies from other jurisdictions (including Calgary?!), rather than referring these examples to a committee of council to create a truly made-in-Wolfville policy. The latter approach was used a few years ago to change street-use and signage by-laws in Wolfville that suited the Town’s unique character. The process took a year, but the results were reflective of the research undertaken and input received from businesses and individuals.

Oddly, the groundswell of support for naming Ye Olde Towne Clocke Parke in honour of Mona Parsons served to change the existing policy to the worst kind of politically correct Pablum. Guided by such a policy, the Town could conceivably be littered with plaques commemorating all the nameless, faceless individuals who ever committed Random Acts of Kindness and Senseless Acts of Beauty, rather than granting recognition to those who stand head and shoulders above most citizens by having done an extraordinary service for their community and/or their country. Mona Parsons, by dint of operating in the nascent Dutch Resistance for over a year and serving almost four years in Nazi prisons and camps for her actions, arguably deserves such recognition, regardless of the short-sighted political correctness of members of Council.

There are certainly other women in Wolfville’s history who deserve recognition for their contributions to the community and to the country, (e.g. Constance Hayward and Esther Clark Wright are two whose names were suggested) but every name thus far put forward was engaged in work she enjoyed and for which she received some sort of remuneration and/or recognition (and that’s most certainly the case for the men whose names were also suggested). One person even suggested that the park should be named for Evangeline, a fictional character created by Longfellow for the poem of the same name, because she represents the wrongs committed by the English against the Acadians. Since the Grand Pre park, which houses the commemorative statue to Evangline, is about to get a UNESCO World Heritage designation, most would agree that this character and the tragedy that resulted from the expulsion of the Acadians will be well-recognized.

In contrast with the historical figures whose names were put forward as being at least as worthy, Mona – though passionate about freedom – could hardly be said to have been engaged in work she “loved”. She did not serve on committees or councils of the Resistance who plodded along, debating the merits of action or caution, and looked to other Resistance movements to obtain a consensus on how each had conducted its activities before finally deciding on a synthesized approach to rescuing downed Allied airmen. Mona and her compatriots got down to the business at hand – and all without having a leader, a corporate structure, terms of reference, a mission statement, or even any particular regard to their own safety or well-being. And, unlike every other woman whose name was put forward as deserving recognition, Parsons unequivocally put her own life on the line. Women like Constance Hayward and Esther Clark Wright might have been willing to do so for the sake of freedom, but none were ever called upon, or found themselves in circumstances where that could happen. None experienced hearing a death sentence proclaimed on her life, nor the deprivation and degradation of Nazi prisons.

So, despite 300+ signatures on a petition, and ignoring a request from Elizabeth Kloosters to read into the minutes of the June 25 Council meeting a statement of why the park naming is important from a historical and a personal perspective, Council voted for politically correct pap cobbled together by the Chief Administrative Officer and her staff – which begs the question, “Who serves Council, and whom does Council serve?”. To quote the caption on an image circulating on the internet, “ERROR 404 – Democracy not found.”

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Mona Louise Parsons (1901-1976)

Many who know me are aware of the story of Mona Parsons — the only Canadian female civilian to have been imprisoned by the Nazis for her work in the nascent Dutch underground from May 1940 to September 1941 (married, as she was at the time to a Dutch businessman, and living in Holland). Convicted of treason by a Nazi military tribunal (one of the first, and few women to be tried thus), she was initially condemned to death by firing squad. Her composure and courage so impressed a judge, that she was permitted to appeal her sentence which, in January 1942, was commuted to life at hard labour. She went through many trials and tribulations, humiliations and cruelties, but never lost her nerve or her hope. At age 44, she escaped from the Vechta prison in March 1945 in the company of the indomitable 22-year old Dutch baroness, Wendelien van Boetzelaer.
The book I wrote about Mona Parsons is now, sadly, out of print (even though last December it was approved for the supplemental reading list for the Grade 11 history course in Nova Scotia). The documentary I co-wrote for History Television back in 2000 has also receded into the background. So, I was delighted to learn in the autumn of 2011 that the Women of Wolfville were gathering support to have the new town park in Wolfville — the town where Mona spent her formative years and her final years — named after her. Unfortunately, in Wolfville, there are those who wish Mona to be remembered as an addled alcoholic unworthy of remembrance. Despite passionate support from Wolfville citizens such as Wendy Elliott, Ramona Jennex, Jeremy Novak, Gillian Poulter, Donna Holmes and Emily Levy-Purdy the Town made a decision that is a bland attempt at political correctness, in which it determined that no one was more worthy of such an honour than another. Apparently in the Utopia that is Wolfville, we are every one of us equal. Too bad that sentiment doesn’t get any further than paper. Further, when asked if a simple statue could be erected in her memory in Ye Olde Towne Clocke Parke, the representatives of the Women of Wolfville were told that a policy would need to be drafted about such matters… perhaps February. Well, it’s now halfway through April, and there’s been no movement. In the meantime, however, someone offered a free statue of some Dead White Man to be erected in Ye Olde Towne Waterfronte Parke, and Wolfville Town Council has been honoured to give its approval for such a Worthy Noble to be thus honoured.
Long before last October’s town park naming debate, Robbins Elliott – who knew Mona when he was a boy, and as a young Army officer saw her in the Canadian Field Hospital after her rescue (when she carried a mere 87 lbs on her 5′ 8″ frame and was suffering from septicemia), and was so keen and so instrumental in helping me to bring Mona’s story to light in the 1990s – proposed in 2000 that a street in Wolfville be named after her. The suggestion was ignored, and instead new streets were named after some of the town’s founding “fathers” (more Dead White Men) – including the first chief of police and a real estate developer. Robbins Elliott once told me that, before he left this earth, he wanted to see a book, a documentary and a film about Mona, and a permanent memorial – appropriate to her vivacity and spirit – created for her in Wolfville. Robbins died November 13, 2003, having seen two of his four wishes granted. But his fervent desire for the other two are not forgotten. Back in 2005, there was even discussion at Parks Canada for a permanent memorial for Mona Parsons in one of Canada’s National Parks.
Closer to home, suggestions in 2003 to include her in a proposed display in the Kings County Museum of its leading citizens – among them Gladys Porter, first female mayor in eastern Canada and Nova Scotia’s first female MLA; Alfred Fuller, founder of the Fuller Brush Company; Abraham Gessner, father of the modern petroleum industry; and Walter Ryan, the man who created the permanent lighting of Niagara Falls – met with no enthusiasm. In fact, I was asked to remove Mona Parsons from a talk I gave to community groups about these historical characters. Initial reason given for excluding Mona was that she had done nothing for her community. Annoyed, I asked if the “nothing” she had done could be equated with the “nothing” done by WWII veterans like my father and Robbins Elliott. With the strained patience one shows to a four year old whose only response to every statement is “But why?”, it was explained to me that Mona had left Nova Scotia, married a foreigner, made some sacrifices in a foreign country, returning to her home town only to die. After arguing that every other figure proposed for the permanent display, with the exception of Gladys Porter, had also left their community (all to the United States) and had died elsewhere, another excuse was offered — one I’d not heard before.
I was told she was considered unacceptable by some members of the community — and especially by a couple of key members of the Wolfville Historical Society at the time — because of an alleged drinking problem. Apparently colourful historic anecdotes describing men’s alcohol-induced antics – including Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. MacDonald being so drunk for an appearance during an election campaign that, while standing on the back of a train, he vomited and proclaimed words to the effect “And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what I think of my opponent” – are considered amusing occurrences and elevated to the status of legend, but in a woman are to be judged as unladylike, and sufficient grounds to deny her recognition in history for whatever heroic actions she may have undertaken. But no such anecdotes exist about Mona. There are only her painful writings of her inability to remember things, or of becoming confused and befuddled, unsteadiness on her feet – all of which can be attributed to the transient ischemic attacks or “mini strokes” she suffered. And besides, after experiencing what she did in Nazi prisons and camps, who could blame her if she had developed a drinking problem? Hundreds of people came through World War Two with scars that could not be seen and which they dulled with alcohol or drugs – conditions we now recognise as Post Traumatic Stress. Would the Self-Appointed Protectors of Wolfville’s Moral Fabric like to review histories of the names of those who appear on the town’s WWI and WWII memorials to determine which of them should be struck from the stone for perceived activities or beliefs deemed inconsistent with those of an upstanding Wolfvillean? What on earth could be done, for example, if one of them was found to be — gasp! — GAY?!
Perhaps someday, when both the self righteous who would condemn her, and Mona’s idealistic promoters who would have us believe she never fell off a virginal pedestal have all gone the way of all flesh, Mona will find some perspective as a human being who had flaws as we all do — even the self righteous and self-declared upright members of the Wolfville community — and who took exceptional risks that few of us are ever called upon to do, to support the freedom she believed in, without ever having carried a gun or having worn a uniform. And it is for those actions alone that she deserves to be remembered long after the rest of us in the ranks of the unremarkable and ordinary have faded from memory.