Kingston pub dropping Sir John A. Macdonald's name

A Kingston, Ont., pub located in a stone building that once housed Sir John A. Macdonald's law office is shedding the name of Canada's first prime minister because it's offensive to some Indigenous customers, according to its owner.

Sir John's Public House changing name to avoid alienating customers, owner says

Sir John's Public House in Kingston, Ont., has announced it will remove the reference to Canada's first prime minister from its name. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

A Kingston, Ont., pub located in a stone building that once housed Sir John A. Macdonald's law office is shedding the name of Canada's first prime minister because it's offensive to some Indigenous customers, according to its owner. 

Sir John's Public House, a two-storey pub and restaurant on King Street that seats 150 patrons, will abbreviate its name to The Public House, Paul Fortier confirmed Monday.

"It's this whole spirit of reconciliation," Fortier said.

The role that some 19th-century politicians played in the creation of the residential school system has "alienated" many Canadians, Fortier said, and was the key reason behind the name change.

"Unfortunately, Sir John A. Macdonald has been tarred with that brush."

Idle No More protest

Fortier said a turning point was a protest outside the pub last Labour Day that was organized by Idle No More. More than a dozen protesters carried signs and banners denouncing colonialism and accusing residential schools of stealing Indigenous children, language and culture.

I could understand the hurt that it caused. We don't want to create a feeling of alienation to any customers.- Paul Fortier, owner

"I don't really think it hurt business, but it hurt our reputation, and we want to be perceived as a safe place for people to come," said Fortier, who opened the pub six years ago.  

He said some customers told him they could no longer patronize the pub because of its association with Macdonald.

"I could understand the hurt that it caused," he said. "We don't want to create a feeling of alienation to any customers."

Name change applauded

Terri-Lynn Brennan, CEO of Wolfe Island-based Inclusive Voices, applauded Fortier's decision.  

"[I'm] very proud of the owner who has been very responsive to the controversies in Kingston surrounding Sir John A. and his legacy," Brennan said.  "As an Indigenous woman, there is certainly no doubt about [Macdonald's] past racist comments and policies that we all live with today."

It takes a lot of strength to make those business decisions.- Terri-Lynn Brennan, Inclusive Voices Inc.

Brennan has worked with the City of Kingston on outreach projects with Indigenous communities, and noted that many businesses in the area pay homage to Macdonald in some way.

"The movement of the pub to wipe his name is a great movement forward for many businesses in Kingston to take a look at the legacy pieces of Sir John A. himself, and it takes a lot of strength to make those business decisions," she said.

Brennan noted that Bellevue House National Historic Site, Macdonald's home in Kingston from 1848 to 1849, updated its exhibits last summer to reflect the former prime minister's unvarnished thoughts about Indigenous people.

Sign coming down Tuesday

Fortier said he also heard from customers who told him they were there because they felt the business had been unfairly targeted by the protesters.

Three years ago the pub celebrated the 200th anniversary of Macdonald's birth on Jan. 11, 1815.

Fortier believes his is the first business or public venue in Kingston to drop the former prime minister's name, but he said a Parks Canada plaque on the downtown building will remain. 

The pub's sign is due to be changed Tuesday.