Controversial Cornwallis statue removed from Halifax park

A statue of Edward Cornwallis, Halifax's controversial founder, was removed from the park that also bears his name Wednesday afternoon.

Halifax regional council voted 12-4 in favour of putting statue of city founder in storage

The statue of Edward Cornwallis was removed Wednesday afternoon. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

A statue of Edward Cornwallis, Halifax's controversial founder, was removed from the park that also bears his name Wednesday afternoon.

Crews strapped the statue, hooked it on to a crane and lifted it from its pedestal around 4:30 p.m. local time to a small crowd of cheering people. The statue was then placed on the back of a truck headed for storage. Work to remove the statue started around 11 a.m.

Halifax regional council voted 12-4 Tuesday to remove the bronze monument commemorating Cornwallis, the military officer who founded Halifax in 1749.

Crews used a crane to lift the statue of Edward Cornwallis off its pedestal Wednesday afternoon. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

The decision comes after increasing controversy over Cornwallis's so-called scalping proclamation that offered a cash bounty to anyone who killed a Mi'kmaw person.

Both the statue and the stone pedestal on which it stands will be placed in storage.

Rebecca Moore, a Mi'kmaw and a member of Pictou Landing First Nation, helped organize protests against the Cornwallis statue. She said removing it is an "awesome" step toward reconciliation. 

A crew begins work Wednesday on removing the Edward Cornwallis statue. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

"I know Mi'kmaw nation is very happy right now, I know that, so I would say that's a definite step forward in reconciliation," she told CBC's Information Morning.

The recommendation to remove the statue from the park was outlined in a report added as part of a last-minute motion to Tuesday's council agenda. It cited public safety concerns and building better relationships with Halifax's Indigenous communities as reasons to put it in storage.

Moore said her group engaged in peaceful protests and had no intention of escalating into violence.  

"I can guarantee and I can vouch for that we never planned violence on our part, but I think that what the city was finally recognizing is something that we were telling them for a long time and it's how this statue is a flashpoint for racial tensions," she said.

Moore said she would like to see the statue put in a museum with a description explaining the history behind Cornwallis and why the monument was removed from the park.

"It's not about erasing history at all, so that argument is not accurate because I feel like this whole process is actually bringing to light accurate history without offending a whole nation of the Indigenous peoples here," she said.

Founders could be honoured

Leo Deveau, strategic planning chair of the Halifax Military Heritage Preservation Society, watched as crews began taking apart the statue Wednesday.

Deveau said he is not happy with the process that led to the statue being removed, but said he wants to move forward.

"Obviously it's been divisive in different ways, but I really think that now is the time to look at what are our options in terms of this statue and other possibilities," Deveau said.

Leo Deveau, strategic planning chair of the Halifax Military Heritage Preservation Society, said he supports the idea of a founder's park. (CBC)

Deveau said the park could be used to highlight the city's founders with statues representing the Mi'kmaq and Acadians and Cornwallis.

"It's not about putting it back up, it's about bringing it together with other elements of the historical narrative," Deveau said.

'A good step'

Corey Hinchey showed up at the park to watch the statue come down. He said his is "100 per cent on board" with it being removed.

"I'm not for burying it completely, but I think its purpose would be better served in a museum where people can read about the history of it. I think it's very offensive to a large group of people," Hinchey. "I think it's a good step in the right direction." 

Sonia Losier works across the street from the statue also said she is happy to see it come down.

"I'm Acadian so for me, to know what he did to the natives and to my ancestors, you know, it's a really good feeling. I had to see it," Losier said.

A 'learning' moment

Coun. Lisa Blackburn, who voted in favour of removing the statue, agrees a museum is a more appropriate place for the statue. 

"It's going to be about learning going forward," she said.

Work crews arrived shortly before 11 a.m. to put up scaffolding around the controversial statue. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

With the statue removed, Blackburn said she hopes the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq Chiefs will come back to the table and help form an expert panel to make recommendations on how to handle other municipal properties named after Cornwallis.

Talks between the municipality and the assembly broke down after some regional councillors rejected one of the panellists suggested by the assembly.

The dispute centred around Wilbert Marshall, the chief of Potlotek First Nation. Some councillors refused to accept Marshall's appointment because he was convicted in 2008 of sexually assaulting a 20-year-old woman.

Halifax regional council voted 12-4 Tuesday to remove the bronze monument commemorating Cornwallis, the military officer who founded Halifax in 1749. 1:00

With files from Information Morning and Preston Mulligan