Sean MacDougall

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Across the country there are statues of historical figures set in public places that draw connection to them. Whether you are in Bedeck, Nova Scotia with the statue of Alexander Graham Bell and his wife Mabel Gardiner Hubbard; in Ottawa with the Anishinabe Scout or in Charlottetown with the statue of Sir John A MacDonald.

Very seldom do we see a full context for some of these statues and we are limited to a snippet of their past inscribed on a plaque.

This was the case with another statue which has since been removed from its mantle. The statue of Edward Cornwallis, an Englishman who established the city of Halifax in 1749. When the statue was removed on January 31, 2018 there were vast numbers of people both against and for it.

Many of those opposed expressed the removal as an attempt to erase history. While the fate of the statue is still in limbo at the moment some in the Mi’kmaq community have said they did not want the statue destroyed but maintained in a museum or an area to have the history and full context of Cornwallis explained.

The point was and is not to erase the name of Cornwallis but to provide its full context.

While Mr Cornwallis did establish Halifax he wasn’t much of a Haligonian having left after two years. He eventually made his way to Gibraltar, a British territory, where he died in 1776.

When in Halifax, Cornwallis put out a call for the scalps of the Mi’kmaq in and around K’jipuktuk (modern-day Halifax). He essentially ordered that the original inhabitants of the land be hunted down and killed to make way for his establishment of the city.

While Sir John A MacDonald was the first prime minister of this country and his face stares back at us from the older $10 bill, he also established residential schools.

The institution of residential schools would last up until the closing of the last school in 1994 (some reports say it closed in 1996). These schools were created to “get rid of the indian problem,” as said by Duncan Campbell Scott, Deputy Superintendent of the Department of Indian Affairs until 1932.

The schools should be considered one of the reminders of the racist elements of Canada’s history. Many children were deeply traumatized and some died like Chaney Wenjack, an Anishinabe boy who tried to run away from Cecilia Jeffrey Residential School back to his home in Ojibwe First Nation.

Currently the statue of MacDonald sits in a fashion that would seem to invite folks to sit with him and have their picture taken. Removing the statue would take away a tourism piece of Charlottetown that lacks context, therefore the long-term goal should be to give it the proper context. The statue, like others of historical figures without the proper context, should not be destroyed but be in a place where people can learn about the full history of that person.

No, not every little detail about them, where they went to school and such but if a person has partaken in a piece of history considered a mark against humanity, it should be reflected alongside their inanimate likeness.

Sean MacDougall

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(1) comment


I think that removing or defacing statues or monuments smacks a bit of book-burning. If a statue of a historical figure comes under modern day disapproval, then use it to educate by having a well thought out plaque placed there. And what about the principles of democracy? So what if a handful of people 'demand' or 'object'? Why should city councils rush to meet to discuss this? Have a vote or a referendum. I don't like the idea of a handful of zealots deciding for the rest of us what is to be destroyed. If something is truly offensive to the majority it should go. Or those who object should take their case to court.

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