Who steals from McCrae House?

November 3, 2010


Early Sunday morning, after most Halloween parties had died down, two young men decided to do something really stupid.

They took a step ladder and went creeping around Guelph’ McCrae House in the dark. After finding they couldn’t break in, they took what they could carry from the outside the building – a replica lantern, some books, some small wooden  boxes – and snuck away.

Minor crime right? Unless it isn’t. Because when you steal from a place like the McCrae House, you’re stealing from history itself.

I know it’s Halloween. I know mischief goes hand in hand with that night. But smashing pumpkins in the road is one thing. Sneaking around to steal antiques from a historical museum? That’s pretty low.

More than anything, this was a crime of ignorance. The young men who stole from the McCrae House probably thought they were just taking some old stuff from some old house.

But that limestone cottage, built in 1858 – nine years before Canada was even a country – means a heck of a lot more than that. I doubt these young men know it’s so named because it’s the birthplace of John McCrae, the man who wrote In Flanders Fields.

I doubt they realize the physician and soldier wrote the famous poem after watching his friend die in the First World War. I doubt they realize what that poem means to people who wear the red poppy on their jacket this month, or why it has lasted for 85 years as a reminder of the sacrifice of war.

I doubt they’ve ever looked at a $10 bill and wondered why that poem is quoted on it. I doubt they’ve ever wondered why it’s such an iconic part of our culture, from references in The Simpsons to inscriptions on the wall of the Montreal Canadiens’ locker room.

I know that people who sneak around in other people’s backyards late at night are probably not reading their local newspaper, anyway. So I’m preaching to the converted – like those residents of Guelph’s Old University neighbourhood, where it seems nearly every other house has a shed broken into, a garage rummaged through or a bicycle walk off in the middle of the night.

As far as criminal enterprises go, this one wasn’t the most sophisticated or well-run. The pair were so loud sneaking through an adjacent backyard, after they hopped the fence from the McCrae property, that one of them was caught.

One guy was grabbed by a neighbour dressed as Jughead Jones from the Archie comics – it was Halloween, after all. The other one ditched his friend and was long gone before police showed up.

The young man charged in this crime is an otherwise intelligent university student from Waterloo. He is by all other appearances “a good kid.” He should know better. He should know why the McCrae House matters to Guelph, and to Canada’s history.

But he doesn’t. And that’s a shame. Here’s hoping he stays out of Riverdale.

Greg Mercer is a Guelph-based writer. His column appears Wednesdays. He can be reached at greg_mercer@hotmail.com, and past columns can be read at gregmercer.ca

Guelph Mercury, 11/03/10

One Response to Who steals from McCrae House?

  1. SummerOfNoRegrets on December 7, 2010 at 10:14 pm

    dear “greg mercer”,
    my friends and i have greatly discussed this article regarding the nature of actions done by our other friends in guelph and we have come to this conclusion: they may have guelphcatted too much that one night, but we regret nothing. nothing at all.

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