Statue could start coming down as soon as Saturday
A little over a year since UVic removed the name of Joseph Trutch from one of its residency buildings, the City of Victoria took a similar step towards reconciliation this week.
Mayor Lisa Helps announced on Aug. 8 that the city will propose the removal of the statue of John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister and a founding father of Canadian Confederation, from the front of city hall.
“If we’re serious about reconciliation as a city, which we are, then part of our responsibility is to make sure that the public spaces in Victoria not only start to reflect less of a colonial legacy, but also start to have the signs and symbols and the presence of the Lekwungen people throughout the city,” said Helps.
The city council voted 7–1 in favour of removing the statue on Thursday, Aug. 9, although some councillors expressed concern over Helps’s late announcement of the decision.
The city could begin to take down Macdonald’s statue as soon as this Saturday.
Macdonald was a prominent figure in forming Canada’s residential school system— government-sponsored schools that aimed to assimilate Indigenous youth into Canadian culture. The program was intended to — in the words of the Canadian government — ‘kill the Indian in the child’.
“Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence, and the only way to do that would be to put them in central training industrial schools where they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men,” Macdonald said in 1883, before opening the first of three residential schools in Western Canada.
“He was the one who started the residential schools, and there is nothing about education that was part of the package.”
Over 150 000 First Nation, Métis, and Inuit children were in many cases forcibly removed from their families to attend residential schools, and an estimated 6 000 children died from a result of the abusive culture. Students were stripped of their traditional clothes and given uniforms as well as new names, and they were forbidden from talking in their native languages.
Residential schools operated for over 100 years in Canada, and the final school was closed in Punnichy, Sask., in 1996.
Meanwhile, the city’s decision to remove the statue has divided Victorians. Some see Macdonald as a crucial founding father to our country, and others as a tyrant who discriminated against Indigenous people.
Robin McKee, chair of the John A. Macdonald Society in Hamilton, told the Globe and Mail it’s hard to see the legacy of a man who brought colonies together to form Canada erased.
“I don’t know of any man that has created a country as strong and as good as Canada.”
Others like Bob Chamberlain, Vice-president of the Union of B.C.’s Indian Chiefs, voiced support for the decision in a Times Colonist interview.
“He was the one who started the residential schools, and there is nothing about education that was part of the package,” Chamberlain said. “It was about destroying the Indian and the child. It was about destroying our families and our communities.”
Macdonald also served as an MP for Victoria from 1878 to 1882, and his statue has sat outside city hall since 1982.