A controversial statue in Vancouver’s central Gastown neighbourhood was brought down during the 31st annual Women’s Memorial March on Monday.
Police say as the annual Women’s Memorial March wound past Gassy Jack around 1:15 p.m., demonstrators tied ropes around the statue, pulled it down and covered it in red paint.
John Deighton — called Gassy Jack for his talkativeness — was a Canadian bar owner in Gastown, where he operated a saloon beginning in the late 1860s. Although he’s been celebrated, and was commemorated with the statue, the most commonly known story about him is missing some sordid details.
He was married to both a young Squamish woman and later her 12-year-old niece.
The first woman, whose name has been lost to history, became ill and died. Deighton then married her young niece, Quahail-ya or Wha-halia. Deighton was 40 at the time, and according to Squamish oral history, the young child bride eventually ran away from her much-older husband when she was 15.
Patricia Massy, owner of Indigenous bookstore Massy Books, has participated in the march for 10 years.
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Massy, who is of Cree and English descent, said the group walks by the statue every year.
“It’s kind of insulting that he’s just standing there, considering the legacy he has with the women of the Squamish Nation,” she said.
As she neared the statue, Massy said she knew immediately Gassy Jack was coming down.
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Cheering, drumming and singing broke out as the statue came down, she said.
“It was just so empowering.”
Police say no one was injured when the statue came down, and they are investigating. No arrests have been made.
Demonstrator actions ‘dangerous’: mayor
In a statement, Vancouver mayor Kennedy Stewart said the City of Vancouver has been consulting with the Squamish Nation on how to remove the statue and acknowledge Deighton’s harmful legacy.
However, the mayor was not supportive of actions taken by demonstrators Monday.
“While the statue was clearly a symbol of pain, violence and trauma associated with colonialism and violence against Indigenous women and girls, today’s actions that removed it in a dangerous way undermines the ongoing work with the Squamish Nation to guide the steps towards reconciliation,” the statement says.
The mayor’s office has contacted Squamish leadership for guidance on how to move forward.
Read the full story by Courtney Dickson on CBC Vancouver.
This story was originally posted by Courtney Dickson on February 14, 2022.