In a unanimous decision, Victoria city councillors approved a motion to return the John A. MacDonald statue to the society that donated it to the municipality years ago.
The statue was removed from outside Victoria’s city hall in 2018 as an act of reconciliation on behalf of the city toward the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations.
It had been on the steps since the 1980s when it was donated to Victoria by the John A. MacDonald Historical Society. It was installed on the steps of city hall without the consultation of the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations or the public.
John A. MacDonald was one of Canada’s historical figures responsible for the design of the residential school system, the mistreatment of Asian immigrants and general bigotry on non-white residents of Canada.
Macdonald was Canada’s first prime minister, serving from 1867 until 1873. He was prime minister again from 1878 to 1891. He was also the MP for Victoria from 1878 to 1882.
Due to the recognition of John A. MacDonald’s racist views and policies, the statue was removed professionally and held in a secure location.
The City of Victoria recognized the reckoning that was spreading through the country regarding Canada’s history of attempted cultural genocide of Indigenous peoples.
Victoria held seven sessions of reconciliation dialogue and discussed many things, the first of which was about John A. MacDonald and what to do with the statue that had been removed.
“The dialogue in March 2020, right before the pandemic, featured a conversation about John A. MacDonald,” said Mayor Lisa Helps. “We asked the public for their thoughts on what to do with the statue and a range of opinions came forward.
That range of opinions that came up in the reconciliation dialogue included throwing the statue in the harbour, dismantling it, putting it back and giving it back. There was no consensus.
The mayor also remarked that once the gravesites of hundreds of children were found in Kamloops, that changed the situation.
“We understand why the statue was removed from its plinth located near the entrance of city hall,” said John A. MacDonald Historical Society Chair, Michael G. Francis.
“We are appreciative of the time and thought that has been invested by yourself, the various First Nations involved in the Reconciliation process, and other city officials as you have considered alternative sites for the statue.”
The Historical Society has requested that the statue be returned under these conditions:
- That the City of Victoria will return the statue to Ladner, BC, the Historical Society will not permit the statue to be displayed anywhere in BC without the approval of the Victoria City Council and the local Nations on whose territory the statue would stand
- The Society continue to support the reconciliation process
- The Society not seek another place to put the statue but instead safeguard it
- That if they should ever display the statue again the Society will include with the statue, educational and contextual information about John A. MacDonald, his time, his policies, and their consequences.
The cost of shipping the statue is, “certainly less than putting it up anywhere else in the city,” said Helps.