Workers from the City of Kingston removed the statue of Sir John A. Macdonald from its place at City Park at 6 a.m. today to begin its relocation to Cataraqui Cemetery.
The removal follows a decision made during a Special Meeting of Kingston City Council on Wednesday, Jun. 16, 2021, where a vote in favour of the relocation passed by 8-5, following the recommendation by the The Sir John A. History and Legacy Working Group. The statue’s removal has been a subject of debate over the years, and sparked protests calling for removal of the statue in 2020 where an effigy of Sir John A. Macdonald was burned in front of city hall.
The removal of the statue drew a large crowd at the park alongside members of the encampment who have been camping at the park in ceremonial action to advocate removal of the statue since June 11. Many began playing music and dancing. A small group holding Canadian and Ontario flags attempted to block the work crews, but were asked to move by police. They complied, and watched the removal while shouting their disagreement at the removal, including the term ‘terrorism.’ Cheers, shouts, and tears erupted from the gathered crowd as the statue was dislodged from its base and loaded onto a truck at approximately 9 a.m.
At a press conference following the removal of the statue, member of the Revolution of the Heart Ceremonial Action group, Susan DeLisle, said that the removal today is only a step towards reconciliation, and that the group feels there is still more work to be done.
“We’re really pleased to see him come down, obviously,” said DeLisle. “We are requiring that the City consult with the Indigenous community about where he will go from here… The whole point of him coming down is to not memorialize him, not to put him on a pedestal. There’s really no difference to him being here or at the cemetery.”
While council debated in the special Wednesday meeting, members of the encampment listened live for the five-hour meeting via a bluetooth speaker. Many attendees were shocked by some of the language used by both councillors and delegations, which were often possessive of Indigenous communities. These sentiments were echoed by Natasha Stirrett, an assistant professor at Carleton University and an Indigenous scholar in criminology, who expressed her dismay at levels of racism during her delegation to Council at the meeting.
“There is a lot of misinformation being circulated here,” Stirrett said. “It’s difficult as an Indigenous Scholar, as a professor whose trained in education, to hear people make such undercurrent racist comments, even unintentionally, without realizing they’re doing it.”
Though there were several options being considered by Council, the decision to move the statue to Cataraqui Cemetery was defended by Mayor Bryan Paterson, who said that the relocation was a “compromise” designed to encourage continued discussion.
“After careful consideration, City Council voted to remove and relocate the statue from City Park to the Kingston Cataraqui Cemetery. Engagement with the public will continue throughout the process,” said Paterson. “This was a difficult decision, and the outcome will not appease everyone. However, the hope is that with this compromise we signal to the community, one with very divergent views on this matter, that we’re committed to continued dialogue about the legacy of Sir John A. Macdonald in Kingston. We recognize the pain that the statue inflicts on the Indigenous community in its current location, we understand the legacy of Sir John A. is complex, and we want to move forward in a way that encourages community, conversation, healing, and education towards the shared path of reconciliation.”
However, while the Working Group had recommended the removal of the statue, the option of the relocation was not discussed with members of the Working Group or Indigenous communities before the Council vote on Wednesday. The second option for the statue being reviewed by Council dealt with the possible removal and storage of the statue, pending consultation with the Working Group. Several council members who voted against the relocation, including Councillor Peter Stroud, were unhappy with the lack of consultation with interested parties on the relocation to the cemetery, and so opposed the motion in favour of option two.
“The whole point with option two is to have that conversation with everyone, not just us, which means both sides. Nobody was asked about the cemetery option with any of the consultations that we had with the public to date,” Stroud said.
The special council meeting on Wednesday heard from a number of delegations regarding the city’s decision, including Matilda Nataway Struthers, who articulated her experiences as a survivor of the ‘Sixties Scoop,’ and Mark O’Farrell, who stood against the removal of the statue.
“It resonates as painful to see a man’s statue standing there who hurt our people, who took us from our families and placed us in other homes. It’s just a painful situation when I go down there,” said Nataway Struthers.
O’Farrell expressed his concerns that history was being twisted in the removal of the statue, and that the removal of Sir John A. Macdonald’s image and name from City property was a mistake.
“This is not about truth an reconciliation,” said O’Farrell. ” Sir John A. was not perfect, but he was far better than most, certainly better than any of us that sit in judgement of him today, many with a very biased and tainted view of his history.”
City Council also voted to extend the permits for the encampment at City Park, whose occupants cheered upon learning they would be able to stay. The encampment will remain until a ceremony on the evening of Sunday, Jun. 20, 2021, which will be held to let the spirits rest, according to Mance Granberg (Abenaki Wiliwini).
Though the statue has been removed, there is as much a sense of victory as frustration from those who wanted to see it taken down.
“A museum where honest, just, and proper history could be portrayed would be the best place for him to go,” said DeLisle.