The Sir John A. History and Legacy Working Group held a meeting Monday, Jun. 14, 2021 in preparation for the Special Council Meeting to be held by the City of Kingston on Wednesday, Jun 16, 2021 to debate the fate of the Sir John A. Macdonald statue in City Park.
After many thoughts were shared, the group drew consensus that the statue should be removed from its pedestal as soon as possible and placed in storage for a limited time until further discussions could take place about what is to be done moving forward. The Working Group will make this recommendation to The City of Kingston in a report prior to the Special Council Meeting.
The meeting was meant to provide the Working Group with an opportunity to organize feedback and make suggestions to City Council about how to respond to concerns that have been and continue to be raised by the community in regard to the Sir John A. Macdonald statue in City Park, as well as his legacy. Members of the public were able to attend the Working Group meeting, as witnesses, via Zoom.
Reached for comment after the Zoom meeting, Chief Don Maracle of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte explained that, originally, he had been in favour of keeping the statue in place with educational information at the site. However, “As this discussion evolves, the City must respond to its citizens and respect their wishes about what they want in their community. This is also a matter of public safety. We don’t want the statue to be defaced and become a target for more militant activists. The statue should be put into storage until the City comes up with a way to use it to educate the public about the history of colonialism,” he said.
Melissa Hammell of Indigenous advisory firm First Nations Group facilitated the meeting from her home in Ottawa. She asked the circle to “Practice our listening deeply, and come up with some considerations for council.”
Hammell said, “We received correspondence from the community, about 150 letters were received before noon hour today, and that correspondence will be copied and it will be attached also to the staff report that will go to city council Wednesday.”
Kinoozishingwak (Tall Pine) Bob Watts, Senior Fellow (Reconciliation) of First People’s Group began the webinar with a smudging ceremony and invocation.
By means of an introduction of each of the speakers, Melissa Hammell said, “I really believe that this is the right group of people to bring around the table for this discussion that we’re going to have today.”
Those people were, along with Hammell and Watts: Cassidy Carol; Jennifer Campbell; White Raven Woman Candace Lloyd, a Metis Traditional Knowledge Holder; Tanya Grodzinski, PhD and professor of History; Ann Stevens, Culture Volunteer at City of Kingston; Laurel Claus-Johnson of the Indigenous Cataraqui Grandmothers, and; Mary Farrar of Friends of Kingston Inner Harbour.
The group members each made passionate statements about the state of Truth and Reconciliation in Canada.
Various ideas about what to do with the statue were put forward by each member: take the statue down and put it in storage, not to have the statue on public display unless it were in a museum, take the statue off of its pedestal and bring the first prime minister down to the level of a flawed human being with faults and accomplishments together.
Chief Don Maracle called for the statue to be put in storage until such time as better education could be put in place that told an accurate story about the first Prime Minister’s contribution to history.
Laurel Claus Johnson was very adamant that she did not want to see Sir John A Macdonald “destroyed the way we were destroyed” but that the statue should be removed to storage and, if ever re-erected, it should be on ground level, not high on a place of honour.
Chief Dave Mowat said this was a chance for Kingston “to create new history.” He stated that he would like the statue to be taken down in a public ceremony.
Otherwise, he felt that there is “something boiling under the surface” and that “the forces at work right now would not be content” with the statue remaining at ground level. “The City of Kingston should be at the forefront of that and the statue should be taken down as soon as possible,” with respect and dignity, explained Mowat.
The idea of replacing the statue with a playground and garden dedicated to those children lost in the residential school system was presented by Candace Lloyd. She pointed out that the history of Indigenous peoples has been shared orally and that symbols like statues were unnecessary. She supported the complete removal of statue and pedestal, saying, “If you were to change it into a garden, something that people can come to heal, that pedestal will be remembered for generations for what it is. And the pedestal is no better than the statue. To have the pedestal there, still telling you that the statue was there, it’s like a memory. But if we’re going to change everything, changing the whole format of the area will be better. Leave the space open for change.”
Tanya Grodzinski wanted to tell a much more broad story than just about the first Prime Minister. “Kingston,” she said, “is a centre of colonial expansion,” and she would like to see the space used to teach people about that story.
Dionne Nolan presented her thoughts live from the statue of Sir John A. Macdonald and suggested that her protest group supported the removal of the statue to Bellevue House National Historic Site.
Chief Don Maracle said that this was an opportunity for not just Reconciliation but “ReconciliACTION,” adding, “I don’t think the group needs to solve all of these problems moving forward. We don’t want to create an environment of antagonism or polarization. We want a healthy discussion to go on, but we want people to listen with sincerity and recognize that there is harm that has been done.
“But,” he continued, “If people just end up hating each other over it, have we accomplished good or bad? And the goal is not to engender hate, but to engender understanding and a desire to make things better in the future.”
Kinoozishingwak (Tall Pine) Bob Watts observed that the group had been productive and that at the meeting, “The way that people have expressed themselves, they have brought their heart and mind together to consult, with just so much integrity and respect for each other, so I just want to recognize that.”
The Sir John A. Macdonald History and Legacy Working Group is an outcome of over 14 months of community conversation and public engagement. The Working Group was formed to further consider the history and legacy of Sir John A. Macdonald in Kingston and develops interpretive text that addresses issues specific to that history and legacy, which can be shared across various platforms, online and on-site, through the City of Kingston website, and interpretive panels located in relation to local landmarks managed by the City of Kingston.