As the question looms over what to do with statues bearing the names of leaders with complicated legacies, so too does the statue of Sir John A. MacDonald loom over the City of Victoria, just outside city hall.
MacDonald was Canada’s first prime minister and also served as Victoria’s MP for a short time toward the end of his career. His blinding ambition for politics served to establish Canada at an incredible pace, though his treatment and disregard for our First Nations peoples remains at the heart of the argument.
Do we rename the countless public schools that bear his title? The answer is as complicated as the actions MacDonald brought forth in establishing what is modern Canada. A recent Angus Reid poll finds more than half of Canadians, 55 percent, would oppose the removal and only 25 per cent are in favour.
Protesters took to the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia last month in an effort to preserve the statue of Confederate Civil War general Robert E. Lee. It is easy to brush off the racial tensions of the U.S. saying Canada is a different place.
But, it has only been since the election of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2015 that Canada has taken real steps in the direction of reconciling our past, acknowledging the oppressive measures that continue today as a result of horrors like the residential school system. And even that is still up for debate.
History is important, and as the saying goes, “those who don’t learn it are doomed to repeat it.” As a nation, Canada continues to learn from the dark periods of its past. The survivors of the Japanese internment camps of the 1940s and the Sixties Scoop no longer have to live through those atrocities. But, they certainly haven’t forgotten them.
The question then becomes, whose version of Canadian history deserves the highest honour? MacDonald stands over tourists and residents of our city encased in bronze for all time. Perhaps instead of tearing him or his name down, we should preserve the history of our Indigenous peoples in the same way.