The removal of the Sir John A. Macdonald statue was a plan long in the making.
Newly publicized information brought forward through a freedom of information request shows that plans for the removal began nine months before, despite the fact that it was only presented to City council two days before it happened. It also appears that only five in-person meetings of the designated City Family council happened within this time to discuss the matter.
The City Family, a council made of of Mayor Lisa Helps, Coun. Marianne Alto, Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe, and representatives of the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations, including Esquimalt Hereditary Chief Edward Thomas and Songhees Chief Ron Sam, opted to avoid “public fanfare” as the decision was made.
Following a less Westernized custom, no minutes were taken at any of the meetings.
The City Family began as a part of the city’s Witness Reconciliation Program, and the removal of the contentious Sir John A. Macdonald statue was their first action.
“A decision was made that we would ask Council to remove the statue and put it in storage until we were further along our journey of reconciliation and came up, as a family and community with a better way to present the complexities of his role in Canadian history,” wrote Helps in an email dated November 13, 2017.
The decision took many long conversations about wording for the plaque, and for the presentation of the decision to remove the statue, which the City Family called their “Story” before it was removed on Aug. 11, 2018.
A rough timeline of events follows:
- The statue was commissioned and installed by John Dann in 1981
|John Dann (second from left) as he placed the his sculpture of John A. MacDonald in front of Victoria’s City Hall in 1981. (File contributed)|
- Summer of 2017 – The City Family begins meeting in an effort to determine appropriate steps towards reconciliation
- October 11, 2017- a City Family gathering is held at 5 p.m. at Victoria City Hall. At this time, the City Family discusses removing the Sir John A. Macdonald statue from the entrance of the hall. Minutes were not taken at these meetings, but in an email in July, Alto states that with the removal of the statue “our conversations about Reconciliation can unfold without the presence of that oppressive energy.”
- Nov. 13, 2017 – City Family members begin discussing the wording on the plaque to replace the statue via email.
|A screenshot of a redacted email to the City Family shows that discussions of the removal of the Sir John A. Macdonald statue began in November 2017 (City of Victoria)|
- Nov. 15, 2018- A Family gathering is scheduled, but one member cannot attend, Helps says she might be late.
- Mid February, 2018- Then Esquimalt Nation council representative Ed Thomas attended a family gathering for the first time.
- Feb. 25, 2018- An email from Helps to the late Esquimalt Chief Andy Thomas requests input from the Esquimalt Nation.
- April 7, 2018- a proposed meeting involving Esquimalt Chief and Council is cancelled due to the passing of Chief Andy Thomas
- A June 13, 2018 – City Family meeting is postponed, due to a confirmed meeting with the Esquimalt Nation on June 25.
- A meeting happens at the Esquimalt Nation Council Chambers. Emails indicate that Songhees Chief Ron Sam was also present.
- July 11, 2018 – City Family plans to gather for a meeting to discuss the removal of the Macdonald statue. Emails indicate that at this point, both the Esquimalt and Songhees councils have been consulted. The meeting is then cancelled due to scheduling conflicts, and re-booked for July 18.
- July 18, 2018 – emails indicate a discussion happened, with at least one member absent, and that the family agreed the statue would “be removed quietly” and “without fanfare” and put into storage. An unconfirmed date of Aug. 10 or 11 is put forward for the removal.
- July 30, 2018 – Alto asks the Songhees Nation to write a brief letter in support for the action.
- July 31, 2018 – Esquimalt Hereditary Chief Ed Thomas and the Songhees Nation write letters of support for removal of the statue from City Hall.
|A letter from Songhees Chief Ron Sam approves of the removal of the statue of Sir John A. Macdonald (City of Victoia)|
- Aug. 6, 2018 – Helps puts forward a “drop dead deadline” for the Family Council to put towards its Story that it will present in full to City Council. Helps also sends a memo to City Council that a report is coming tomorrow ” for information only.”
- Aug. 7, 2018 – The City Family story is planned to go public, and discussed two days later at City Council. Helps says “We’ve dotted all our i’s and crossed our t’s. Now we go forward.”
- Aug. 8, 2018- City Family gathering is cancelled due to scheduling conflicts, with assurances from both Nations that they are comfortable with the statue removal. Some members opt to go to a baseball game instead.
- Aug. 9, 2018- Victoria City Council receives information on the removal of the statue.
- Aug. 10, 2018 – Emails indicate the statue will be removed by City staff the following day (Saturday) starting at 7 a.m. A rally is scheduled in protest of the removal of the statue, and the sculptor of the statue speaks out.
- Aug. 11, 2018 – At 1 a.m. Alto thanks the Family for “the grace, wisdom, patience, candour and faith each of who have brought to this journey, to this moment. “
- Aug. 11, 2018 – 7 a.m. – crews remove the statue as hundreds of people gather in protest and in support.
- By 2:42 p.m., Helps emails the family to thank them for “wise counsel and your faith in us to do the right thing.”
- Aug. 14,2018 – plaque that replaced the statue was vandalized
|The plaque that replaced the John A. Macdonald statue in front of Victoria’s City Hall was vandalized within the first day that it was up. (Victoria News file photo)|
- Aug. 29, 2018 – Helps apologizes on her personal blog for not including more people in the decision.
“As mayor of Victoria, I apologize for not recognizing that the city family’s process might make some people feel excluded from such an important decision,” she said in a statement on her campaign website. “I didn’t recognize the great desire of Victoria residents to participate in reconciliation actions. The process going forward will enable this.”
The statement was removed shortly after.
- Nov. 18, 2018 – The city revealed that it cost $30,000 to remove the statue
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