Readers debate Victoria’s John A. Macdonald statue

By 6 p.m. on Thursday, the Times Colonist had received 67 letters to the editor about Victoria city council’s decision to remove the statue of Sir John A. Macdonald from outside city hall.

All but three of the letters were opposed to moving the monument.

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Here are some of the letters we received.

Choose light over darkness

By simply removing and hiding the statue of Sir John A. Macdonald, we are missing a chance to educate. Sir John A. was certainly not without flaws, but without him we would likely be part of the U.S. Certainly our country would not stretch from sea to sea to sea.

A prominent plaque erected adjacent to the statue detailing his rights and wrongs would be far more useful. Light is almost always better than darkness.

 

Gloria Snider

Victoria

Look at symbols of oppression

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “oppression” as “the state of being subject to unjust treatment or control.”

In contrast, the usual scenario we think of when we think of oppression is that of someone who is captured, confined, tortured, or otherwise unjustly treated or controlled against his or her protests and pleas for freedom. Those who organize rebellions, or who would do so if they could, are thought to be oppressed.

The internal resistance against apartheid in South Africa was viewed as a mark of oppression, while those who acquiesce in their cultural restrictions and taboos are typically considered free agents.

John Alexander Macdonald, as a dominant figure of Canadian Confederation, is one prominent example of “forced” oppression.

Unless we change our idea about what oppression is and can be; and, unless we take a rational, cautious, evidence-driven inventory of our assumptions, collectively as a global community, and individually as Canadians, we might never come to know just how oppressed we really are, and the wrongs we seemingly support with symbols of those who oppress.

Bill Perry

Victoria

Taking down statue is no solution

Humans are flawed and imperfect creatures, capable of both horrific acts and remarkable achievements. Canada’s history is filled with events rooted in relationships between people; some turn out good, others bad.

Sir John A. Macdonald and Sir George-Étienne Cartier were flawed and imperfect men. However, without their “unlikely” friendship and partnership, Canada would not exist.

Reconciliation can and should be recognized in many forms. Immediately removing the statue of Canada’s first prime minister is not the answer.

Rather, Mayor Lisa Helps’ group should recommend First Nations and non-First Nations artists to enter a design competition for three more statues to be placed in front of City Hall, alongside Macdonald’s, that recognize Cartier and the great leaders of the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations.

Unfortunately, history is written by the conqueror.

Ron Devion

Brentwood Bay

City makes a step to reconciliation

Accurate history of Indigenous peoples has been hidden for more than 200 years. Sir John A. Macdonald’s policies put into place actions that are still harmful today.

Cultural genocide, forced assimilation, residential schools, a disproportionate number of Indigenous children in foster care, the Indian Act, reserves, unceded territory is still disrespected and trampled upon by both federal and provincial governments with no acknowledgment to, or permission received from, the First Peoples who have had territory for millennia.

These are a few examples that still, in 2018, have a negative impact on the daily life of Indigenous peoples, and all are policies implemented by Macdonald and remain in practice today. That is why I support Mayor Lisa Helps’ intent to remove this statue from in front of city hall.

B.C., however, can hold its head up high in one regard, B.C. does not have laws supporting a bounty on Indigenous scalps. Despite many requests from local chiefs, Nova Scotia’s bounty on scalps remains as a proclamation. Nova Scotia has not maintained action on the proclamation from 1756, but it remains in 2018.

Is history being erased? History is being rewritten to include all facts, not only those seen through a white settler lens. Thank you, Mayor Helps, council and the group that decided to create another small step toward reconciliation and recommended removal of this statue.

Arlene Ewert

Victoria

Family’s decision foregone conclusion

So the “city family” was composed of Mayor Lisa Helps, two like-minded councillors and members of the Esquimalt and Songhees Nations. And “the family has made a decision that the statue will be removed.”

Why it would take a year of “deliberation” to reach what was clearly a foregone conclusion is a mystery.

Talk about stacking the deck.

Apparently, there is never any disagreement in Helps’ family. There is no credibility to such a family’s decision. This is cynical nonsense on Helps’ part and should be resisted, if only on her process.

Geoff Robards

Oak Bay

Destroying history destroys people

Re: “Macdonald statue to be removed from city hall,” Aug. 9.

“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history” — George Orwell.

Jacques Clau

Victoria

Sir John kept us from joining U.S.

We live in a loopy world, but I have never heard of anything more loopy than city hall’s decision to remove the statue of Canada’s first prime minister from its current position.

Tampering with history can be perilous, and I invite Mayor Lisa Helps to reflect on the fact that if it had not been for John A. Macdonald, B.C. would likely be part of the United States today.

He was not perfect, admittedly, but he was of his time. Erasing his memory reflects more on us than it does on him. Will we ever grow up?

David Collins

Victoria

Put up contrasting opinions

As a frequent visitor to your wonderful city of Victoria, I’m concerned that your city council is considering following the pattern chosen by several other communities in Canada.

Halifax wishes to obliterate the memory of Lord Cornwallis, while my hometown of Kingston, Ont., continues to question the actions of Sir John A. Macdonald. Our city is regularly having to erase graffiti from our former prime minister’s statue in a central park, while a popular local eating establishment even went so far as to change its name.

But should we endeavour to erase history or should we learn from it? Will future generations ask what was once standing on an empty pedestal?

Would it not be better to erect two plaques beside the effigy, showing both sides of the story? Then a passerby would be presented with contrasting opinions of the legacy of the political or historical figure from which to form judgments. That is the basis of good education.

Would a statue of many of our current national or world politicians stand up to such scrutiny in the future?

Doug Boulter

Kingston, Ont.

Change the name of the city, too

I would like to congratulate Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps for her successful campaign to remove the statue of Sir John A. Macdonald from city property. It’s about time the city admitted its responsibility for the evils of European colonization. Who needs history? It’s already gone.

I’m disappointed that the mayor didn’t advocate changing the name of the city itself. If Sir John A. supported colonialism, Queen Victoria was an unrepentant imperialist and colonialist.

It’s shocking that such progressive politicians can think well of themselves while keeping the city’s name honouring such a racist, imperialist and colonialist as Queen Victoria.

Gary Mauser

Professor Emeritus

Institute for Canadian Urban Research Studies

Simon Fraser University

Other PMs allowed residential schools

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps needs help to put history into perspective.

While the government of Sir John A. Macdonald initiated residential schools — reflecting the prevailing sentiment of the society of his day — all succeeding prime ministers of both major parties supported their continued existence until more enlightened public opinion resulted in their eventual closure. Are we now going to take down statues of Liberal Sir Wilfrid Laurier? What about W.L. Mackenzie King or John Diefenbaker?

The head of state of the day was Queen Victoria. What about her statue at the legislature? Are we to rename our city?

This kind of revisionist history — applying today’s social standards to the leaders of the past — is counterproductive. It doesn’t take into account the many accomplishments of our forefathers, from which we all benefit.

In the case of Macdonald, better to put things into perspective with additional wording on the plaque next to the statue so our descendants get a balanced view of important history.

Dave Laundy

Cobble Hill

Put the statue in provincial museum

It seems as if we non-Indigenous people are being told to erase our history. In the case of Sir John A. Macdonald, I suggest that, instead of putting the statue in basement storage somewhere, along with old filing cabinets, etc., it be moved to the Royal B.C. Museum, where it can be displayed along with an explanation of who he was and what he was responsible for, the good and the bad, to educate people on why he was such an important person in Canada’s history.

L.M. Davies

Victoria

Correct history, don’t erase it

While I applaud Victoria city council’s community-consultation approach, I object to a statue of our first prime minister being removed and stored.

I share the views of First Nations people and other Canadians about our despicable residential-school system. Correcting history could happen in this case with a plaque explaining Sir John A. Macdonald’s racist role in those terrible residential schools, hence using this statue as an educational truth-and-reconciliation tool.

History should be corrected, but it can’t be erased and shouldn’t simply be hidden by any council or group.

Peter W. Rusland

Duncan

Many helped create residential schools

I suspect that few of our founding politicians, clergy, educators and, frankly, everybody else in those days, didn’t participate either directly or indirectly in creating and operating the residential-school system that so injured many within First Nations communities.

The decision by the so-called Victoria “family” to remove the statue of Sir John A. Macdonald won’t change the facts of the matter. At best, by removing it we will be much more able to brush aside these facts and, eventually, forget all about the role that he and the citizens of the time had in the cultural molestation of the First Nations people.

Instead of trying to sweep this part of our history away and “cleansing, blessing and healing” the spot of concrete defiled by the presence of this image, would we not be far better off taking this as a teaching opportunity, to contextualize the actions of the day and remind us that all of us bear some historical responsibility?

Jim Jaarsma

Victoria

Macdonald must be rolling in his grave

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps has succeeded in alienating many voters.

How dare she judge an acclaimed hero (from 150 years ago) by the standards of today.

Sir John A. Macdonald, our first prime minister, was instrumental in bringing this province into the Canadian Confederation, completing the Canadian Pacific Railway, uniting the country and creating of the North-West Mounted Police (now the RCMP), a national icon, amongst other things.

I predict that Helps will suffer politically for her thoughtless and outrageous removal of Macdonald’s statue because of what might have happened 150 years ago, and rightly so. “Old Tomorrow” (Macdonald) must be rolling over in his grave. “Political correctness” runs amok in Victoria City Hall in 2018.

Gord Weitzel

Langley

Macdonald helped erase history

Re: “Macdonald statue to be removed from city hall,” Aug. 9.

“We should be very careful about erasing our history” is a hilariously ironic statement coming from Bruce Hallsor, considering the subject of that statement (Sir John A. Macdonald) had such a strong hand in erasing Indigenous people’s history and culture.

Perhaps what he means is: “We should be very careful about erasing white history.” I am a white person — and a student of Canadian history — who supports the removal of effigies of people who, regardless of their historical importance, displayed attitudes that can no longer be reconciled with today’s ideals of progress, inclusion and simple human decency.

“Fairly liberal for his time” is not good enough for this time, especially not if we are truly concerned about reconciliation. We can and we must rewrite history to include those whose histories have actually been erased.

Eryn Yaromy

Victoria

‘City family’ doesn’t reflect the city

The “city family” Mayor Lisa Helps speaks of is really a misnomer, as their view does not reflect views of the citizens of Victoria. Better to call it her city family. A poll suggested 80 per cent opposition to the plan.

Come elections this fall, the real city family will, I hope, replace this heavily biased mayor and council, which has been following a secret agenda that the majority of Victorians despise. They would never have been elected in the first place if the electorate knew beforehand what they were planning.

Their methods are unsound, as well — imposing ideological decisions, without looking at the practical, empirical aspects of an issue.

Let’s hope we can get to the election before much more damage is done to our fair city.

William Tate

Victoria

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