John A. Macdonald
Sculptor John Dann (left, in sweater) helps place the statue of Sir John A. Macdonald outside Victoria City Hall in 1982. (John MacKay)

Almost a year after the subject of its removal sparked public debate, the statue of Canada’s first prime minister John A. Macdonald that adorns the front steps of Victoria City Hall will be removed this weekend.

The statue will be removed on Saturday, August 11, and a plaque will be installed immediately.

Mayor Lisa Helps announced the statue’s removal on her campaign website on Wednesday.

“Indigenous people do not need to walk past this painful reminder of colonial violence each time they enter the doors of their municipal government,” Helps wrote.

The decision was reached following a year-long process in which the city started a Witness Reconciliation Program.

“As part of this process, decision making with regards to reconciliation (other than budgetary allocations) are made by the City Family with the Songhees and Esquimalt Chief and Councils as witnesses,” Helps wrote. “Witnesses, in Lekwungen tradition, listen to the story of the family and give their input and guidance to find a good way forward.”

Removing the statue was the first concrete action that the City Family chose to take.

John A. MacDonald left complicated legacy behind

While MacDonald is largely known for being the first Prime Minister of Canada, he was also instrumental in the implementation of residential schools, government-sponsored religious institutions schools that were made to assimilate Indigenous people into Canadian culture.

In 1879, MacDonald said that “Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence, and the only way to do that would be to put them in central training industrial schools where they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men.”

An estimated 150,000 First Nations children were forcibly removed from their families and kept at those schools, and thousands died as a result.

The last residential school closed in 1996, and their effects are still felt within the Indigenous population today.

Plaque to stand in statue’s place until replacement is decided

Helps says that the statue will be removed and stored in a city facility “until an appropriate way to recontextualize MacDonald is determined.”

“After an appropriate amount of time has passed (as determined by Elders from the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations) a cleansing, blessing, and healing ceremony will be held in the space where the statue formerly stood,” she wrote.

In the meantime, the statue will be replaced by a plaque to explain the decision-making process behind the statue’s removal.

“In the longer term, as determined by motion of Council in late 2016, a piece of art representative of Lekwungen culture will likely go in this space,” Helps wrote.

The plaque’s wording, approved by the Chiefs and Councils of the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations, is as follows:

In 2017, the City of Victoria began a journey of Truth and Reconciliation with the Lekwungen peoples, the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations, on whose territories the city stands. 

The members of the City Family – part of the City’s Witness Reconciliation Program – have determined that to show progress on the path of reconciliation the City should remove the statue of Sir John A. MacDonald from the front doors of City Hall, while the City, the Nations and the wider community grapple with MacDonald’s complex history as both the first Prime Minister of Canada and a leader of violence against Indigenous Peoples.

The statue is being stored safely in a city facility. We will keep the public informed as the Witness Reconciliation Program unfolds, and as we find a way to recontextualize MacDonald in an appropriate way.  For more information please visit www.victoria.ca/reconciliation.

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