PEI

Charlottetown to rethink Sir John A. Macdonald statue after letters calling for removal

Charlottetown city council is holding a special closed meeting Tuesday night to address the Sir John A. Macdonald bench statue at the entrance to Victoria Row after they received several emails calling for it to be removed.

'Without truth we don't get to reconciliation'

Ann Braithwaite says she is appalled every time she walks past the Sir John A. Macdonald statue on Queen Street. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

Charlottetown city council is holding a special closed meeting Tuesday night to address the Sir John A. Macdonald bench statue at the entrance to Victoria Row after they received several emails calling for it to be removed.

Mayor Philip Brown says recent events such as the anti-racism demonstrations on P.E.I. last week show there must be reconsideration of public statues as part of the healing process.

"It's good to have these discussions," he said. "It allows us to re-examine our history."

Sir John A. Macdonald, one of the founding fathers of Canada, was widely recognized as the architect of residential schools, which separated Indigenous children from their parents and led to abuse and problems that have festered for more than a century.

Instead of that empty place on the bench for tourists to take smiling pictures, why don't we have signage that tells his true story?—  Jenene Wooldridge

He was also accused of starving Indigenous people among other atrocities.

'Without truth we don't get to reconciliation'

Jenene Wooldridge, executive director of L'nuey, an initiative focused on protecting, preserving and implementing the constitutionally entrenched rights of the Mi'kmaq of P.E.I., said in her group's opinion, it's "less about taking the statue down and more about telling the real history."

'We need to work together to tell Canada's true history, which is rooted in the Indigenous People of this country,' says Jenene Wooldridge. (Buffie Boily)

"John A. Macdonald almost gets off easier if we remove the statue and he is forgotten about, as opposed to an equally impactful plaque or sign along with his image explaining that he was a racist and the horrific impacts he had on Indigenous people," she wrote in an email to CBC.

"Instead of that empty place on the bench for tourists to take smiling pictures, why don't we have signage that tells his true story? Without truth we don't get to reconciliation."

Wooldridge said there needs to be more statues that are reflective of Indigenous history in Canada.

"We need to work together to tell Canada's true history, which is rooted in the Indigenous People of this country."

'Not how I want Canada to be represented'

Ann Braithwaite, a professor of diversity and social justice studies at UPEI, said she is "appalled" every time she walks past the bench. 

"I think it's also incumbent on sort of white settler folks like me to say this is not how I want Canada to be represented," said Braithwaite, one of people who sent emails to the mayor and council.

History should be studied and remembered. It should not always be celebrated, venerated, or cast in bronze.—  Kelly Robinson

"My suggestion for now I think is you remove it and then you have the long conversation about what you want to do with it. Do you chuck it in the harbour, do you melt it down, do you put a new plaque around it?"

Kelly Robinson, who is white, also wrote to city council asking that the statue be removed "out of respect for our Indigenous community members."

"History should be studied and remembered. It should not always be celebrated, venerated, or cast in bronze," she wrote.

Charlottetown has the opportunity to be 'on the right side of the contemporary moment,' says Ann Braithwaite. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

Robinson suggested the Macdonald statue be replaced with a statue of George Godfrey, a Black boxing champion from the 1800s who is in the P.E.I. Sports Hall of Fame.

Braithwaite said in a time where racially charged statues are being taken down across the world, Charlottetown has the opportunity to be "on the right side of the contemporary moment."

"There is nothing hugely important in any way about this particular memorialization so just move it. Get rid of it."

Brown said he has enlisted the advice of the city's arts and culture advisory board, which oversees public art in Charlottetown, but the ultimate decision on whether to remove the statue would go before an open meeting of city council.

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