Newly renamed Peace and Friendship Park celebrated in Halifax
Municipal council made change official on June 9, opening held on National Indigenous Peoples Day
Mi'kmaw elder Daniel Paul says it's a change he has been looking forward to for 35 years.
On Monday morning, Paul and Halifax Mayor Mike Savage unveiled a sign for the new Peace and Friendship Park on Hollis Street in the downtown square that used to be named after the city's founder, Edward Cornwallis.
The British governor of Nova Scotia issued a so-called scalping proclamation against Mi'kmaw men, women and children the same year he established the city.
Paul said for years, fellow historians believed Cornwallis had a cordial relationship with the Mi'kmaq. But Paul held out hope that through greater awareness and education, people would learn the truth about a man honoured for centuries as a hero.
"My friends, the colonial propaganda that depicted our ancestors as bloodthirsty savages and dehumanized them to no end had, for centuries, caused a great deal of suffering among our people," he told a crowd gathered to celebrate the new name on National Indigenous Peoples Day.
Paul said he always thought the statue that stood in the park that bore Cornwallis's name "would be brought down with verifiable, historic knowledge by citizens, which has proven to be the case."
In 2014, about 150 people attended a public meeting about the future of the square. After much debate, the city removed Cornwallis's statue in 2018, and last year a task force recommended renaming the park and a street in the city's north end.
On June 9, Halifax regional council made the park's name change official in a unanimous vote.
Speaking at the unveiling, Savage acknowledged that the new name was only one step and that work still has to be done.
"While we know the real action matters most, we know that symbols carry weight. They hold meaning. Peace and Friendship Park recognizes that we can work together to recognize a wrong and that we're not bound to our history so much as informed by its lessons," the mayor said.
Over the years, few issues have provoked as much public reaction as renaming the park, he told CBC. But he said history is "far from perfect" and going forward, it's important to "recognize it and make sure we do better."
"I think people understand why we're doing this," Savage said.
Cheryl Copage-Gehue, an Indigenous advisor for the municipality, said it's a "huge step" for the Indigenous community.
She also noted that Cornwallis first arrived on Halifax's shores on June 21.
"It's a fitting day that today we acknowledge what the true intent of our treaties were at the time, which was for us to work here together, collaboratively through peace and friendship."
Reconciliation, Paul said, requires examining the past in a way that doesn't "leave out the oppression of a race of people, such as ours, which has been the practice in Canada for far too long."
"What is better for us to live in harmony and accept one another in peace and friendship?" he said. "Good things happen when people get to know one another."
With files from Colleen Jones