Sir John A. Macdonald statue toppled in Hamilton park after hundreds attend rally, march

A statue of Sir John A. Macdonald was toppled in a downtown Hamilton park on Saturday after hundreds of people attended a rally and march calling for its removal.

City council decided in July not to remove statue from downtown park

A statue of Sir John A. Macdonald is pulled to the ground in Gore Park in Hamilton on Saturday. (Jessica Ng/CBC)

WARNING: This story contains details some readers may find distressing.

A statue of Sir John A. Macdonald was toppled in a downtown Hamilton park on Saturday after hundreds of people attended a rally and march calling for its removal.

The Hamilton Indigenous Unity rally, organized by members of the local Indigenous community, took place on the front steps of city hall in front of the Hamilton sign.

Organizers said the purpose of the rally was to show opposition to a July 8 city council decision to keep the statue of Canada's first prime minister in Gore Park, which is located on King Street East near James Street South. Council voted 12-3 not to remove the statue.

Macdonald is considered an architect of Canada's system of residential schools, which Indigenous children were forced to attend. Thousands died at the schools, according to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and burial sites have recently been found on the grounds of former residential schools across the country.

After the rally, demonstrators marched to Gore Park, where an activist tied a rope around the neck of the statue and others pulled it down as people cheered and clapped. The statue was further vandalized after it fell to the ground.

A cloud of dust rises in the air after the statue is toppled. (Jessica Ng/CBC)

Jordan Carrier, a rally organizer, said she wasn't expecting the statue to come down. "We planned the rally, we came together in peace just to remind city council and all of Hamilton that we are being ignored. Obviously, somebody is hearing us," she said.

But Carrier said she is glad the statue is no longer standing in the park.

"I feel really relieved. This is amazing. I am a bit fearful for the criminalization and the villainization of Indigenous peoples now that this all happened. We will see how much support we get from the city and police, and I wish for everybody's safety," she said.

Carrier said the toppling could have been avoided if council had done the right thing. "They had an opportunity, city council. We knew this was going to happen one day, sooner or later. Here we are," she said.

No arrests made, but police investigating

Hamilton city staff said a public works crew is working to rope off the area and move the statue to a secure location to make the park safe for use.

The city said it is aware of the toppling of the statue and that its cultural staff will assess damage to the statue and the site over the next few days. 

Hamilton police said they are investigating the toppling of the statue but no arrests have been made, according to a news release issued later on Saturday.

Police estimated that about 200 people attended the rally and march. No one was injured as the statue fell, the release said.

"Due to the size of the crowd, police remained on scene to monitor the event," police said in the release.

According to police, the crowd dispersed from Gore Park at 3 p.m. local time. Police said they remained on the scene as they waited for city staff to remove the statue.

Organizers call July decision 'disturbing'

In a letter issued before the rally, organizers said council's decision was "deeply disturbing" to Indigenous people.

"The purpose of a statue is to assert, promote and celebrate cultural values. By keeping this statue in a public space, it acts as a reminder of the values that lead to the forcible removal of Indigenous children and the destruction of families. It invokes great pain and forces community members to relive the trauma for which Sir John A. Macdonald is partially responsible," the letter stated.

"Removal of the statue provides an opportunity for city council to demonstrate that Indigenous voices are being listened to. It is time to take meaningful action. Removal also demonstrates that, while our history cannot be changed, we as a community now promote different values."

The organizers said in the letter that the rally was also held to show support for the calls to action made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Statues of Macdonald have been removed from other public spaces in Canada this year, including in Kingston, Ont., Regina and Charlottetown.

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools and those who are triggered by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

With files from Eva Salinas, Bobby Hristova, Daniel Taekema and The Canadian Press