St. FX mulls options after Mulroney quote challenged

St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S., is considering its next step after a quote on a plaque in its new Mulroney Hall has been called into question.

"The only way out of a paper mill town is through a university door," is the quote. It was said to former Canadian prime minister and St. FX alumnus Brian Mulroney by his father Benedict in 1955.

Meaghan Landry, a St. FX graduate and social worker in training originally from Cape Breton, questioned the choice of quote on her Facebook page on Thursday.

In her post, Landry said the quote devalues tradespeople, leaves an impression paper mill towns are impoverished and embarrassing, and encourages people to leave their home communities.

"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," Landry said.

The university declined an interview on the weekend, referring CBC News to a statement Kevin Wamsley, St. FX's interim president and vice-chancellor, made on Friday.

Plans for review

In the statement, Wamsley said he and his executive council would be reviewing the issue soon.

"I am grateful to those of you who voiced concerns about the quote and how it offended you. As a university, we are bound to self-reflection and, frankly, we did not read that context into it," the statement reads.

"To those of you that we have offended, please accept my sincere apology on behalf of St. Francis Xavier University.

"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 her father worked at a paper mill and that it provided a comfortable life for their family.

She said she also worked at a paper mill for four years, which helped her pay for her undergraduate degree. She said her partner works at a paper mill now.

Robert Short/CBC

"I am a third-generation Xaverian and I really enjoyed my time at St. FX, so within the classroom at St. FX we were always taught to think critically in regards to the institutional and authoritative powers that affected our everyday lives," she said.

"And I just believe that the quote does not represent or correlate with what I learned throughout my time there," she said.

Value of staying in local community

Landry said the university has a strong association with Moses Coady, a Cape Breton Roman Catholic priest, "who played an instrumental role in the Antigonish Movement and the development of co-operatives and credit unions and revitalization of the local economy."

"He encouraged and found ways to help people stay within their local communities, so I just thought the quote itself did not align with my own experience at St. FX."

Within context, she said the quote makes sense — but it hasn't aged well.

"The quote was about his father wishing for a better life for his child and of course I agree with that, that's what any parent wants," she said  

She said her concern is people reading the quote as it is, without knowing the back story or context, may take away a different message.

She said she was pleased with the school's response.

"I'm hoping that perhaps a different quote could be chosen instead, something that's a little more universally applicable, something that's  more hopeful and inspirational for people when they walk into the building," she said. 

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