Sir John A. statue in Charlottetown will stay, but he'll have some company

The controversial statue of Sir John A. Macdonald in downtown Charlottetown will remain, but with some modifications.

Charlottetown council votes to adopt recommendations from Indigenous group

The statue of Sir John A. Macdonald at the corner of Richmond and Queen streets in Charlottetown has been vandalized at least four times since last summer. (Nicola MacLeod/CBC)

The controversial statue of Sir John A. Macdonald in downtown Charlottetown will remain, but with some modifications.

Monday evening, Charlottetown city council voted 8-1 in favour of adopting five recommendations presented by the Epekwitk  Assembly of Councils, a joint forum that includes the councils of both Abegweit First Nation and Lennox Island First Nation.

The assembly said it had made five suggestions to the city to amend the art installation and "tell the true story of this individual and begin to address the trauma that its presence is continuing to perpetuate," the statement said.

Those recommendations are:

  • Add another figure, such as an Indigenous child or elder.
  • Fill in or seal off the empty space on the bench so it can't be used for photo opportunities.
  • Install signage so viewers understand "the devastating role that Sir John A. Macdonald played in the Indigenous history of Canada."
  • If the artist engaged is not Indigenous, a Mi'kmaw artist should be hired as a consultant.
  • Complete the work as soon as reasonably possible.

Only Coun. Mike Duffy voted against the resolution Monday, referencing a survey last summer that indicated the majority of respondents wanted the statue to remain as is

Questions remain

Councillors raised several questions leading up to the vote, such as who will pay for the modifications, where the new signage and Indigenous statue will be placed and how the empty space on the bench will be filled in to discourage photo opportunities.

After the meeting, Duffy told CBC News he thought the statue was very popular with tourists and locals alike. He also kept track of the emails received by council last June.

"Eighty-three per cent of the emails that came in favoured John A. Macdonald staying where he is, and when you get that kind of feedback from the general public, you tend to listen," he said.

"What the people in the city wanted, they directly told me about it. Everything else is, you know, in the past. I don't know what's there and what's not there."

Most will be able to be accomplished, hopefully, by the fall deadline— Coun. Julie McCabe

Some councillors asked whether the recommendations were negotiable. One suggestion raised during discussion was putting the new statue of the Indigenous figure in a different place.

"All arrows for me ... pointed to the fact that was the way it should be and we could look after the Indigenous people by assisting them with their own site," Duffy said.

"That's why I voted the way I did."

The statue has been vandalized at least four times since last June, when council voted 10-0 to keep it where it is.

'Tonight was a win,' says councillor

Coun. Julie McCabe, chair of the tourism and economic development committee, said Monday's resolution would offer a compromise and help advance reconciliation with the Indigenous community.

"If we look at John A.'s policies and their impact on Indigenous organizations, we don't have to diminish his legacy as our prime minister," she said. 

"The key to tonight's resolution was balance and reconciliation, and by working with these recommendations, you can't really have one without the other, so the two pieces of our coming together will really demonstrate that balance."

Although one of the recommendations is to complete the work as soon as possible, McCabe said expectations need to be realistic.

"We're still living in a pandemic situation and there is going to be some consultation that will have to happen with the original artist, with the Indigenous groups. You know, tonight was a win," she said, clarifying that though they've been in touch with the artist, he still owns the rights to his work.

"There's certain things that can happen right away ... most will be able to be accomplished, hopefully, by the fall deadline."

Coun. Mitchell Tweel was absent from Monday's meeting.

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  • An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to the Epekwitk Assembly of Councils as the Abegweit Assembly of Councils.
    May 11, 2021 8:52 PM AT