Mayor Bryan Paterson says he is aware of an online petition launched this Thursday, Jun. 10, 2020, calling for the removal of a statue of Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald from Kingston’s City Park.
“My view is that I have seen the petition, but I am also looking at the hundreds of submissions from hundreds of our own community members from the last year and half, that were very clear,” he said.
“Certainly the feedback we’ve gotten from the community is to add Indigenous history, to add Indigenous stories, and also to add context. Let’s talk about not just the good of Macdonald’s story, but let’s talk about the context of the bad. Let’s have that discussion.”
The mayor said the city launched a very comprehensive consultation over year ago on the question of Macdonald’s legacy in the city, in partnership with an Indigenous consultation team from Ottawa, First Peoples Group.
The final results of the consultation are coming to City Council in the next two or three months, he said, with a number of specific recommendations.
‘Adding history, not removing’
“I can say that certainly one of those is naming streets or projects after Indigenous history — whether it is historical figures or other pieces of Indigenous culture. I think that one specific example would be something like the third crossing. I think that could be a great naming opportunity,” he said.
The mayor said he also defers to the chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Senator Murray Sinclair, who was also the first Aboriginal Judge appointed in Manitoba.
“He was also very supportive of adding to history. That is how we can heal some of these systemic racism issues, to add those stories, to add the legacies of the great Indigenous community members here locally and across this region,” Paterson said.
The petition to remove the statue of Sir John A. Macdonald from City park is one of two launched on change.org taking aim at Sir John A. Macdonald’s legacy in Kingston.
“As first prime minister of Canada, Sir John A. Macdonald was directly responsible for inhumane crimes against Indigenous people and for setting up the residential school system that impacted generations of them,” writes Roshni Desai in the description of her petition ‘Take down the statue of Sir John A. Macdonald in Kingston, ON.’
“He also had family ties to slavery/the slave trade and openly promoted the preservation of ‘purity’ and the Aryan race.”
She notes that similar protests are taking place in Montreal, QC. Approximately 24 hours after launching, the petition had 850 signatures.
A second petition, launched Thursday June 10, 2020 by Sebastien DeLine, calls on Queen’s University to change the name of Sir John A. Macdonald Hall. DeLine specifically wants the hall renamed for Queen’s alumna and Mohawk lawyer, Patricia Monture.
“Rather than glorify such figures as Sir John A. Macdonald as exemplary figures within Canadian state law, it is time to recognize important role models,” DeLine’s statement reads.
Colonial statues targeted worldwide
A movement to remove statues of controversial historical statues has gained momentum across the world this week, an apparent offshoot of protests against systemic, anti-Black racism and police brutality sweeping the United States.
On Monday, Jun. 8, 2020 protesters supporting the Black Lives Matter movement toppled a statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol, UK, and threw it into the river. Across the United States, meanwhile, statues of Italian explorer and colonizer Christopher Columbus are being beheaded, vandalized and toppled this week.
City-sanctioned statue removal is not without precedent in Canada. In 2018, Halifax regional council voted 12-4 to remove a statue of their city’s founder Edward Cornwalis, and move it into storage.
While the mayor said he appreciates the petition and people taking the time to make their voices heard, he said “the level and the depth of the consultation that have happened on a community level on this in the past year and a half, I think they carry a lot of weight.”
A preference for addition of history, rather than removal “came very clearly from hundreds of submissions from our own residents,” he said, “so that is something that I think is really going to guide myself and city council in future decisions.”
This is not the first time the legacy of Canada’s first Prime Minister, and Kingston resident, Sir John A. Macdonald has come under fire in the Limestone City. In January 2018, a local pub formerly known as Sir John’s Public House renamed to ‘The Public House’ after feedback from community members. The building the pub operates in served as Macdonald’s law office in From 1849 to 1860.