It has stood watch over the front entrance of Victoria City Hall for 36 years but on Saturday the statue of Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, will be removed for good.
“This decision has been a very difficult one to make,” said Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps.
The decision was made by a group called the City Family — a collection of city councillors and Esquimalt and Songhees First Nations members.
The Esquimalt Nation calls the removal “an important step in the City’s Reconciliation journey, and is a symbol of progress towards an end to discrimination and oppression.”
“If you’ve been in a residential school, or your mom or grandmother has been in a residential school this isn’t just a statue this is the person that is responsible for setting up that system which is still having such a painful legacy today,” said Helps.
But some take issue with the timing. The surprise announcement was made just days before the statue is set to be hauled away.
“I don’t like that it’s happened so suddenly I think it is an issue that deserves public discussion,” said City Councillor Geoff Young.
“It’s not like we’re building a new bike lane, or building a new park and we want public input the city is committed to a process of reconciliation and this is the action that we’re taking,” said Helps.
The Chair of UVic’s History Department would prefer it wasn’t removed at all.
John Lutz says Macdonald’s entire story, both the good and the bad, is an important part of Canadian history people should know about.
“Do some education around the statue in place and sign it appropriately and offer multiple interpretations of Macdonald’s role in the formation of Canada and our policy and the formation of residential schools,” said Lutz.
“There are elements of his history and things that he said in Parliament that are very racist and today would be condemned by everybody, there are other progressive things he said and did around Indigenous people including, he was the first one to offer the vote to Indigenous people,” he said.
The statue was erected by the Sir John A. Macdonald Society on July 1, 1982. The group says it would like to see it re-installed somewhere else in the city rather than put into storage. Geoff Young agrees.
“What should we do with other reminders of the past in our city?” Young questioned. “Whisking the statue away and putting it in a warehouse doesn’t really start to deal with those important questions.”
Helps says the statue will likely be erected somewhere else in the city in the future but with more details about the complex figure John A. Macdonald was.
Once the statue is removed Saturday morning, the city will install a plaque explaining why it was removed, what’s happening with it and what’s to come.
The City Family will hold a cleansing and healing ceremony at the site at some point in the future and discussions will get underway about replacing it with a piece of art that represents Lekwungen culture.