Kitchener-Waterloo

Sir John A. Macdonald statue at Wilmot's township offices to be moved

Wilmot councillors voted 4-2 Monday night to move a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald to a new location and to pause a project that is putting statues of all prime ministers in a park in Baden.

Prime Ministers Path project also on hold until more consultation done

This statue of Sir John A. Macdonald will be moved from its current location beside the Wilmot Township offices in Baden, Ont. A new location will be chosen after township staff consult with the local Indigenous community. (Joe Pavia/CBC)

Wilmot councillors have voted in favour of moving a statue of Sir John A Macdonald from its current location in front of Wilmot's township offices in Baden to a new location.

Councillors also voted Monday night to put the Prime Ministers Path project on hold until more public consultation can be done. The project aims to put statues of all Canada's prime ministers in a park beside the township offices.

Now, township staff have been tasked with working with the local Indigenous community to find a new location for the Macdonald statue.

Over the course of three hours, council heard from a number of people during the meeting Monday night from both sides of the issue: those who supported the project and leaving the statue where it is and those who said the project needed to be ended and the Macdonald statue removed. Councillors also received letters or emails from more than 30 people.

One letter was from artist Ruth Abernethy, who created the Macdonald statue. She said she welcomed the consultation process.

Senator Robert Black also wrote to council indicating he supported the statue stay where it is.

Black said it's "a positive thing that this conversation is taking place across our country" but added, "I don't think removing these statues is the best way to do that."

'We do need to sit down and have a talk'

Wilmot Coun. Jeff Gerber said he was against moving the statue.

"An appropriately located statue can tell the story of Canada's history," he said. "Even the people calling for the removal are still suggesting there is a place for them, potentially, somewhere."

Mayor Les Armstrong said he would not support the motion because "there's too many things that I think need to be changed. But I do agree, we do need to have the consultation, we do need to sit down and have a talk, and we do need to rectify a lot of stuff that's going on."

Coun. Cheryl Gordijk said she didn't think there was a need for more consultation.

"There's slews of documentation," she said, pointing out that people in Kitchener rejected the project in 2014 and a plan to put the statues at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo was nixed in 2016.

"We found out that education does not come from a statue. If it did, we'd have a bunch of statues at the schools teaching our children, which we don't," she said.

The motion to move the Macdonald statue and pause the path project passed on a vote of 4-2.

'Fulsome representation' of history

Cheyanne Thorpe is the co-organizer of efforts to remove the statue and co-founder of a non-profit organization Collective for Decolonization.

She read a statement to CBC Kitchener-Waterloo Tuesday evening thanking the councillors who voted in favour of moving the statue and questioning Gerber and Armstrong, who voted against.

"The idea that their votes of opposition were procedural and not reflective of their values when it comes to this initiative falls flat," Thorpe said.

"In the end, we are thrilled that council has heard the voices of both Indigenous and ally alike that have worked so hard to bring this issue to light. We are grateful that the Prime Minister's Path will have the opportunity to become a more complete and fulsome representation of Canadian history under the watchful eye of someone trained to curate these kinds of exhibits. Wherever the Prime Minister's Path lands, we know it will be better than where it currently resides."

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