The City of Victoria is not removing the statue of Sir John A. Macdonald outside city hall, but will take a look at that possibility.
The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario has asked school districts to drop his name from their schools after passing a motion condemning Canada’s first prime minister for his “mistreatment of Indigenous peoples.”
Arguments regarding the fate of the statue memorializing the father of Confederation have been around “off and on” for at least a year, said Victoria city Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe. Council is aware of a resurgence of concerns in the wake of the Ontario request and controversy in the U.S. over removal of statues glorifying Confederate historical figures.
Thornton-Joe sits on a Witness Reconciliation Committee with Mayor Lisa Helps and Coun. Marianne Alto, who is also its First Nations liaison. The committee met for the first time in July and plans to meet again in September, when the issue will be discussed further, she said.
“We’ll look at what should be considered and what the First Nations would like to see, whether it’s removal, to a new location or adding a plaque to add more historical context,” she said.
“How do we learn from our wrongs if we don’t know what the wrongs were?”
She said the plaque would be a way to note both Macdonald’s positive achievements and controversial policies.
Macdonald’s achievements include his role in establishing a national railway, but he also established Canada’s residential school system that separated Aboriginal children from their families and culture.
The 19th century Conservative politician also served as minister of Indian affairs and was Victoria’s Conservative member of Parliament from 1878 to 1882.
A random poll taken beside the statue in front of city hall’s Pandora Avenue entrance drew mixed responses.
“I do believe it’s part of our history and we can’t just abolish and dismiss our history, but I think we have to be thoughtful about what icons we look at and admire,” said Vic High teacher Kerry Krich. “There is a lot of good that he did and that has to be recognized as well. I guess compromise is the word.”
Mike Wbarra, a Mexican-American who lives north of Los Angeles, said no matter how distasteful history might be, it shouldn’t be revised.
“History is history,” said Wbarra, whose grandmother is a naturalized U.S. citizen. “You don’t have to agree with how history has occurred, but that is how you learn and grow as people. If you try to hide all those [negative] things you won’t ever expose anyone to diversity and history. It was a certain period of time, and we grow.”