The man who created the statue of Sir John A. Macdonald that will soon be removed from the front steps of Victoria’s city hall has penned an open letter, saying he is not sure removing the sculpture is the best way to have a discussion about violence against Indigenous people.
In a seven-to-one vote on Thursday, Victoria city councillors passed a motion to remove the statue of Canada’s first prime minister from the front steps of city hall. The recommendation to remove the statue came from the City Family, a group created by Victoria last year to address issues of reconciliation. The statue will be removed on Saturday.
“One of the things we heard very clearly from the Indigenous family members is that coming to city hall to do this work, and walking past John A. Macdonald every time, feels contradictory,” said Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps. Macdonald supported the creation of government-funded residential schools. A statue of Macdonald was installed city hall in 1982.
John Dann, who was commissioned to create the sculpture in 1981 by the John A. Macdonald Society of Vancouver, wrote to Mayor Lisa Helps to say if his sculpture can lead to a discussion about violence against Indigenous people then he is honoured, but he is not sure that removing the sculpture is the “best way to accomplish this.”
“However, the sculpture belongs to the city and it may do with it as it pleases, governed, of course by law, including artists’ rights,” Dann wrote.
“I do not stand in the way of the removal if you indeed go ahead. I would have preferred to have been able to be there to exchange ideas with those who wish it removed. I created it, I stand by what I created.”
Dann said in the letter that the statue is not a representation of a single person but is “a work of art, representing all humanity.”
“I suspect that any artist, particularly those concerned with universal concepts as most Native Canadian artists are, would concur with me,” he wrote.
He also wrote that there is no question that a genocidal wave over a few centuries swept away Indigenous cultures and Europeans imposed their beliefs on other groups.
“John A. Macdonald did not disagree with prevailing thought, he was a leading exponent of it. These ideas are repugnant to us today, they offend us. We abhor the genocide, the spreading of smallpox, the theft, the racism, yet we are reluctant to acknowledge the wealth we enjoy, which is deprived to the Native people, is directly proportional to the degree of theft of oppression they suffered. It is small wonder a descendant of this oppression, one who feels it is alive even today, is hostile to my sculpture, at least at first.”
Dann wrote he was pleased with the sculpture in 1981 and is still pleased with it now, as both a sculpture and portrait.
“I would ask people to look at it not as a specific person [an odd request perhaps for a portrait]. I think this sculpture works as a human expression, an expression of a common humanity. Here we see a confidence, not untouched by vulnerability, arrogance not without humility, swagger not devoid of humour. We have here the strengths and flaws of Macdonald and of ourselves. It is important to recognize those strengths and flaws in Macdonald and those of his time, yet to be aware of them also in ourselves,” Dann wrote.
“Macdonald is gone, his time is gone. We are those who must disavow racism, cultural hegemony…perhaps find common ground with those whose cultures lived in harmony with once pristine paradise.”
Just learned my sculpture of John 'A' Macdonald is to be removed from @CityOfVictoria Here's my letter to Mayor Helps. @SenatorHousakos @CBCAlerts @VictoriaNews @CTVVancouver @VancouverSun @timescolonist @rodmickleburgh @GraemeMenzies @eliasmunshya @P_Ratchford @sal_e_4th pic.twitter.com/H08TVwaSWN
— john william dann (@johwilldann) August 10, 2018