Historical reassessment: A second look at famous Canadians
Published Thursday, August 9, 2018 1:39PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, August 9, 2018 6:39PM EDT
Victoria, B.C. will vote today on whether or not to remove a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald – Canada’s first Prime Minister and a purported father of confederation – from the steps of City Hall.
The action follows a report saying that Macdonald contributed to violence against Indigenous populations.
It’s also raised questions about a similar statue in Montreal’s Place du Canada, which has already been vandalized for the same reason.
The statue of Sir John A. Macdonald in downtown Montreal has had paint thrown on it several times, and was even decapitated in 1992.
Despite his contributions to Canada’s development as a nation, Macdonald is also remembered as an architect of residential schools, and the Indian Act of 1876 – which severely limited the rights of Indigenous peoples.
Jennifer Jerome, a member of Montreal's Indigenous community, said she wants Montreal to follow in Victoria's footsteps and consider removing the statue. She also suggested the province look into renaming schools named after Macdonald.
“Considering the history of Canada regarding John A. Macdonald, it’s just a reminder what he’s done with Indigenous people in Canada in general," she said. "It’s an emotional topic to discuss. I’m a residential school survivor. It really does impact me, my family and my friends.”
"We're not trying to erase our history. John A. Macdonald is part of Canadian history. But I also think it would be respectful to Indigenous people across Canada to remove the statue."
While there’s been no movement at City Hall in Montreal to remove his likeness from Place du Canada, they did vote last year to rename Amherst St. – since its namesake British general was infamous for purposely distributing smallpox-infected blankets to Indigenous communities.
City Councillor Marvin Rotrand said he doesn’t support the idea of removing Macdonald’s statue in Montreal – but admitted that there have been a number of other suggestions from Montreal residents that play into what he calls “historical relativism.”
“Over the years people have approached me saying they want to get rid of the name ‘Isabella Avenue’ because they didn’t like Queen Isabella and the 15th century, claiming she had been involved in genocide and the expulsion of the Jews from Spain,” Rotrand said.
“I’ve had people come to me and say ‘let’s get rid of the name Mackenzie King because he didn’t accept the refugees on the St. Louis in 1938, and they were sent back to Germany and died,” he added. “I’ve had people tell me they don’t like what Pope Pius IX did, and they want to get rid of the name Pie-IX.”
The list, according to Rotrand, goes on and on.
The debate over whether to remove these historical landmarks was really kicked off in the American south last year where civil war and confederate were involved.
People on one side of the debate said removing statues or memorials deemphasizes darker parts of history that should be remembered, while others said the monuments glorify figures who committed atrocities.