Cornwallis statue to be removed from Halifax park after council vote

The statue of Edward Cornwallis will soon be temporarily removed from a downtown Halifax park, after regional council voted 12-4 in favour of putting the bronze figure in storage.

Regional council voted 12-4 in favour of putting the statue in storage

According to the municipality's official Twitter account, the statue will be removed as soon as reasonably possible. (Eric Woolliscroft/CBC)

A controversial statue of Edward Cornwallis, the military officer who founded Halifax in 1749, will soon be temporarily removed from a park in the city's downtown.

The city's regional council voted 12-4 in favour of a motion Tuesday calling for the bronze figure to be removed from Cornwallis Park. 

It will be placed in storage as the municipality figures out the best way to commemorate Halifax's founder.

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

Statue to be removed ASAP

Last year, on Canada Day, Indigenous activists and their supporters who had gathered near the statue were confronted by a small group or men calling themselves the Proud Boys. The Proud Boys were in favour of keeping the statue, with one member saying, "You're disrespecting General Cornwallis."

Although that protest didn't become violent, the incident ramped up debate around the statue.

Members of the group Proud Boys interrupted an Indigenous rally at the statue on Canada Day 2017. (Anjuli Patil/CBC)

According to Halifax's official government Twitter account, the statue will be taken down "as soon as reasonably possible, taking into account such things as weather."

Cornwallis is a controversial figure because he also issued the so-called scalping proclamation, offering a cash bounty to anyone who killed a Mi'kmaw person.

The statue was erected in its current spot in 1931 by the Canadian National Railway for tourism purposes. But it has become a flashpoint for protesters recently, with the staff report arguing there is a "reputational risk to Halifax from the attention associated with this unrest."

Statue debate

Coun. Bill Karsten, who voted in favour of putting the statue in storage, said his position had "evolved" since the public debate first began, and better relationships are needed between the government and Indigenous people.

"If the singular act from the council makes a difference in the future through our action not just words … then I think this is a step in the right direction," Karsten said.

Coun. David Hendsbee, who voted against the motion, said the city shouldn't be hiding its history. He suggested a number of different locations where it could go instead, including Citadel Hill, Province House, City Hall and Halifax's waterfront.

The controversy over Halifax's Edward Cornwallis statue reached a boiling point this summer as protesters threatened to topple it. 1:49

"We should not be putting the statue away … if we're going to put him somewhere, let's put him in plain sight that people can still appreciate our history. Maybe not all of it — but at least we're not running away from it," said Hendsbee.

Coun. Richard Zurawski, voting for the removal motion, argued history is not made by statues.

"That's why we pulled down Saddam Hussein. That's why we pulled down Lenin. History remains: it is written in books; it is discussed; it is in museums," he said. "So if we want reconciliation, we pull down the statue immediately.

"I would like to move it down to the harbourfront, about 20 feet off the docks, and put it in its final resting place."

Panel controversy

Council also voted in favour of trying to restart the process of creating a panel with the Assembly of Mi'kmaq Chiefs within the next six months. If that doesn't work, then staff will come back to council with a revised plan.

Halifax regional council had voted last April to form an expert panel to make recommendations on how to handle municipal properties named after Cornwallis.

The Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq Chiefs was slated to choose half of the panel's eight members, but withdrew its support for the process on Friday and instead called for the statue to be immediately removed. 

Talks between the two sides had broken down after some councillors took issue with an assembly-endorsed suggested panelist: Wilbert Marshall, the chief of Potlotek First Nation. They refused to accept Marshall's appointment because he was convicted in 2008 of sexually assaulting a 20-year-old woman.

The statue of Edward Cornwallis was erected in its current spot in 1931 by the Canadian National Railway for tourism purposes. (Eric Woolliscroft/CBC)

Morley Googoo, a regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations, attended Tuesday's council meeting and said he expects talks to now resume with the municipality.

"I think there was a huge opportunity here for the city of Halifax to show how other municipalities are dealing with this same very question about how do they have new relationships with Indigenous people," said Googoo. "I think it's a very good opportunity for me and I'm really proud to be here today."

'Important conversations'

The Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq Chiefs released a statement Tuesday afternoon saying it was "pleased with today's discussions and [they] hope that this will re-open doors for real Nation-to-Nation discussions and for the next steps to continue right away."

"These important conversations have just begun," Chief Terrance Paul, co-chair of the assembly, said in the news release.

"We've had a long road to bring us to where we are today, from the signing of our Peace and Friendship Treaties centuries ago, to today's discussions of the HRM. We have a unique history in Nova Scotia, and we look forward to how we can tell that story, together, with our Treaty partners."

With files from Pam Berman and Preston Mulligan