Ottawa

Group demanding removal of Sir John A. Macdonald statue from Kingston park

Indigenous activists who have been gathered in a Kingston, Ont., park since Thursday are vowing to stay until the statue of Sir John A Macdonald there is taken down. 

City council to reopen debate over statue of Macdonald, who grew up and practised law there

The statue of former Canadian prime minister Sir John A. Macdonald is covered by a red sheet in Kingston, Ont. on June 11, 2021. Local indigenous groups want the statue removed but the City of Kingston has not decided what to do with it. (Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press)

Indigenous activists who have been gathered in a Kingston, Ont., park since Thursday are vowing to stay until the statue of Sir John A Macdonald there is taken down. 

The group, called Revolution of the Heart, set up at the foot of the statue in City Park on Thursday evening, where members have been burning a sacred fire to help the community heal from the recent discovery of the remains of 215 children buried at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C. 

The group is demanding the statue of Canada's first prime minister be replaced with one that commemorates the victims and survivors of the residential school system. 

Macdonald, who grew up in Kingston and practised law there before becoming a Father of Confederation, is under increasing scrutiny for his government's role in the creation and expansion of Canada's residential school system.

"It's been an ongoing struggle to have that kind of glorification of a genocidal person stopped, because it's really not healthy for those of us who have experienced that genocide," said Susan DeLisle, one of the organizers of the action in City Park, where the statue of Macdonald has been shrouded in red fabric.

"When you see this constant celebration of this man, it's a reminder of all of the bad things that have happened."

Kingston city council to discuss future of Sir John A. Macdonald statue

3 months ago
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Mayor Bryan Patterson says council will try to “bridge what are very different views” on what should be done with the Sir John A. Macdonald statue in Kingston’s City Park, where Indigenous activists have gathered to demand its removal. 0:55

Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson visited the protesters Thursday, and said Monday that all options remain on the table when it comes to the statue's future.

"I think we need to take that time to think through this carefully," he said 

The city has been locked in a debate over what to do with the statue, and has held extensive public consultations about its future. Paterson said those consultations revealed strong feelings on both sides.

The statue of former Canadian prime minister Sir John A. Macdonald is covered by a red sheet in Kingston, Ont. on June 11, 2021. Local indigenous people say they'll camp at City Park until the statue is removed. (Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press)

Statues removed elsewhere

The statue in Kingston, along with several others across the country, has become a lightning rod in the debate over Macdonald's legacy and the need for reconciliation.

Last week, councillors in nearby Prince Edward County voted to move a statue of Macdonald that stood in central Picton, Ont., into storage, and a statue in Charlottetown was also removed. In Ottawa, several prominent figures have called for the renaming of the Sir John. A. Macdonald Parkway.

Last year, Kingston city council decided to keep the statue but add information to the accompanying plaque outlining the full history of his legacy, and struck a working group to come up with the language.

Paterson said after the discovery in B.C., the working group decided the conversation about the statue's future needed to be reopened. The group will meet Monday evening to come up with recommendations that council will discuss at a special meeting on Wednesday.  

"I think that when it comes to making a decision like this, we need to make it as a community, and that doesn't mean that we all have to agree, but we have to make sure that everyone's heard," said Paterson. 

"Then it will be up to myself and council to figure out how [we] find the right path forward that is empathetic, that is responsive, but is also true to history and, understanding that ultimately there has to be a balance."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Natalia is a multi-platform journalist in Ottawa. She has also worked for CBC in P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador.

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