ANTIGONISH: Something that was said to former Prime Minister and StFX alumnus Brian Mulroney in 1955 while he was a teenager and trying to help his family is now at the centre of attention after it was displayed on the wall of a building bearing his name on campus.
The quote, ‘The only way out of a paper mill town is through a university door,’ was said to Mulroney during a conversation he had with his father Benedict – who was an electrician at the local paper mill in Baie-Comeau, Quebec, about seeking an apprenticeship at the mill, because the family was struggling financially.
“My father’s reply is engraved in my memory: “I know Brian, that times are tough and we could sure use the extra money you would bring in,” Mulroney said during the recent opening of the Mulroney Hall on StFX’s campus. “But I have learned one thing: the only way out of a paper mill is though a university door – and you are going to university.”
In a now deleted Facebook post, Meaghan Landry, a StFX graduate originally from Louisdale, questioned the university’s use of the quote as it leaves an impression paper mill towns are impoverished and embarrassing, encourages people to leave their home communities, and devalues trades people.
Landry said her late father worked at a paper mill and it provided her a comfortable life for her family. It also provided her a place of employment for four-years, which helped her pay for her undergraduate degree.
“My family had such strong ties to our local paper mill and this quote made me feel as though I should have to leave that life behind, or as if it was an obstacle that I needed to overcome,” she said. “I am a third-generation Xaverian and I really enjoyed my time at StFX, so within the classroom at StFX, we were always taught to think critically in regards to the institutional and authoritative powers that affected our everyday lives.”
In a statement to the campus community, the university’s interim president and vice-chancellor Kevin Wamsley said StFX is incredibly proud of their region’s rural heritage; strong in industry, agriculture, mining, forestry, and fisheries.
“StFX was founded upon serving these communities; indeed, these communities helped to build StFX to what it is today and still, we offer global opportunities to the children of families who attended the university for generations,” he said. “Even as a nationally recruiting institution, we feel a strong responsibility to serve our local communities, a core value of our identity more than 165-years after the founding of the university.”
Wamsley said the executive council will be reviewing the issue, but as an institution they’re accountable to all of their constituents, and he is grateful to those who voiced their concerns about the quote and how it offended them.
“To those of you that we have offended, please accept my sincere apology on behalf of St. Francis Xavier University,” he said. “In no way did we intend to degrade the reputation of those or any industries or occupations that have played a foundational role in building those communities of which we are so proud.”
Landry said the university has a strong association with Moses Coady who played an instrumental role in the Antigonish Movement, the development of co-operatives and credit unions and the revitalization of the local economy.
“He encouraged and found ways to help people stay within their local communities,” she said. “So I just thought the quote itself did not align with my own experience at StFX.”
With context, Landry said the quote makes sense and she agrees with the notion a father wanting a better life for their child but her concern is people reading the quote as it is, without knowing its context, and taking away a different message.
“I’m hoping that perhaps a different quote could be chosen instead,” Landry explained. “Something that’s a little more universally applicable, something that’s more hopeful and inspirational for people when they walk into the building.”