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County invites comment on proposed exhibit that includes ‘Holding Court’ sculpture

The municipality invites public feedback on the proposed plan to include the “Holding Court” sculpture of Sir John A. Macdonald as part of a permanent exhibit at Macaulay Church in Picton.

The County is developing the exhibit in partnership with the Tsi Tyónnheht Onkwawén:na (TTO) Language and Cultural Centre and the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund. Further information about these organizations and their involvement in the exhibit is shared on the County’s Have Your Say consultation website. Comments are welcome until Monday, March 14.

The exhibit is proposed to explain why and how the sculpture was commissioned and explore the local community’s reckoning with the national tragedy of the Indian Residential School system. Through art and storytelling, the exhibit is expected to encourage visitors to reflect on advancing truth and reconciliation.

The proposal is informed by deputations made at the special council meetings in November 2020 and June 2021.

The statue was removed from in front of the library on Main Street Picton and placed in storage in June 2021.

The bronze portrait depicts a 19-year-old Macdonald winning his first court case in Picton. Canada’s first prime minister was once a resident of Prince Edward County. The sculpture was commissioned by The Macdonald Group and created by Canadian artist Ruth Abernethy to mark the 200th anniversary of his birth. It was unveiled in 2015.

In addition to seeking public feedback, staff are meeting with members of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, the Macdonald Project, members of the ‘Holding Court’ Working Group, and the sculpture artist.

A plan for the proposed exhibit is to be presented at a special committee of the whole meeting March 29. To make a deputation at this meeting, email clerks@pecounty.on.ca by noon on Monday, March 21.

Feedback or questions can also be sent to Chris Palmer, Supervisor of Museums and Cultural Services, by email at cpalmer@pecounty.on.ca or by calling 613.476.2148 extension 2521.

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  1. Mihaly says:

    Paul, you may be misinterpreting the point I am trying to get across. I really don’t see what the problem is with the statue. If it were a statue of MacDonald signing a bill that negatively affects indigenous people, then I would agree to leave the statue in storage. But it isn’t, its just a statue of an ambitious nineteen year old winning his first court case here in Picton. That nineteen year old is our first Prime Minister. I say the statue isn’t something to be shunned, but to be proud of.

  2. Paul D Cole says:

    I agree MacDonald accomplished a lot, however anything MacDonald’s governments had to do with Indigenous Peoples of Canada “Indian’s” had underlying issues. For Indigenous Canadians to enter into enfranchisement or (franchisement) through the Electoral Franchise Act of 1885 meant becoming a British Subject thereby losing their Indigenous Sovereignty and rights guarantied in the Royal Proclamation. You may want to read the Gradual Civilization Act of 1857 and the Gradual Enfranchisement Act of 1869 in order to get a better understanding of the Electoral Franchise Act.

  3. Mihaly says:

    Sir John won his first court case here. Why shouldn’t there be a statue? It isn’t promoting genocide, it’s not meant to deter people of indigenous heritage, it’s just commemorating somebody’s successes. And that “somebody” happens to be our first Prime Minister, if none of you have noticed. Many of you are blinded to the fact that in 1885 he attempted to pass a bill that would have given Indians the vote. As Macdonald outlined in an 1885 letter to Ojbwa chief Peter Edmund Jones, he said he supported placing indigenous on “a footing of equality with the white brethren.”

  4. Paul D Cole says:

    “Every dog has his day” To bad for MacDonald history, TRUE history finally caught up with him. Thankfully the statue will be tucked away, out of sight out of mind and the Colonial Nation he built will become better for it…

  5. Henri Garand says:

    I’m genuinely perplexed by the meaning of SM’s post. My concerns about the proposed museum display have nothing to do with land claims, colonial settlement, or anyone’s residential status. They are informed only by county history between 1830 and 2021. During this time the county did not host any residential school or directly elect John. A. Macdonald. All it did was to erect a statue of an ambitious young man whose subsequent political career is, to say the least, controversial.

    The sole reason for the proposed residential school memorial is the recent furor over this statue. I don’t think those feelings justify making Picton the only small town in Canada which may have such a memorial. The Truth and Reconciliation report calls for national and regional memorials, not in every place remotely connected to Macdonald. The proposal for the Macaulay Museum is therefore opportunistic and excessive in providing historical context for exhibit of the “Holding Court” statue.

  6. Dennis Fox says:

    I quite enjoy the County’s museums – most are run by volunteers. In this case, I don’t believe moving the statue to Macaulay Church was promoted by the museum. I could be wrong about this, but I heard that the museum board were asked to take it????

    As far as supporting our museums with grants, etc… I have no problem with and would be open to giving them a bit more to help carry out their valuable role in our community. John A. is an historical figure – a museum seems like the perfect place for his statue. I hope Council will just get on with the final move and stop the dust storm.

  7. Mihaly says:

    History happened. You can’t pretend that it didn’t. The only way we can learn from the past is by actually having a past, if you cover everything up then what do we have to learn from? MacDonald did bad. I can admit that. But because of some political correctness crap, thats all people see. Not the tremendous amount good he’s done. If he was so bad, why would there even be a statue in the first place? Put the statue wherever, courthouse, museum, back on Main Street even- moving a statue of somebody wont change history. Vandalizing a statue, won’t change history. If you disregard people who are such important figures, like putting their commemorations in storage, for example- we have nothing to learn from and history could easily repeat itself. Examples of this happening might include Russians with Canadian citizenship being harassed because one person of their nationality made a command to invade Ukraine. A German living in Canada might be called a Nazi Sympathizer, just because there was a Nazi Party in Germany. But is this actually happening right now? No. Why? Because of history. We know better because of mistakes people have made in the past. Instead of hiding those mistakes, how about we actually learn from them?

  8. Susan says:

    Thank God the Europeans came here, and thank God we had Sir John A to build us a Nation. Just saying;

  9. John says:

    How much money will this museum generate for the county? Are they just trying to find other ways to spend my 5% tax increase.

  10. SM says:

    The last ice age ended roughly 11,700 years ago. Seems long enough to establish residence to me. By the way, using Mr Garand’s line of reasoning, there would have been no one living in Europe until after the ice age. Therefore they were simply visitors.
    A nation’s history is not objective. It is recorded from the perspective of that nation. Canada came to be as a result of Europeans looking to expand their territorial and economic reach over the rest of the world. England had no right to create the English Empire. Yet they did to the detriment of the people whose lands they entered and subjected to their will.
    I was born and raised in Canada but my grandparents came from Europe. Am I merely visiting Mr Garand or have I settled here?

  11. Henri Garand says:

    Just to clarify, KB, I’m not seeking a dispute over Indigenous territory. At some time after the Ice Age, Iroquois or some other group of people arrived in Prince Edward County and took up temporary or full-time residence. When does residence become “settlement” of the land?

    Similarly, I use the word ”story” not in any pejorative sense. There are real stories and there are fictitious. A history is usually based on written records and/or oral reports. The problem for a museum display is that few facts are known or verifiable. So it would be hard to devote the majority of museum space to Indigenous residence or at least use of county land.

    The point I’m trying to make is about the need for balance and proportion in an exhibit.

  12. Chuck says:

    Blaming one man for everything who happens to be our Father of Confederation makes some people feel better. That’s called a scapegoat.

  13. KB says:

    Um, Henri…..I’m pretty sure this is traditional Iroquois land….indigenous…You see, the tribes didn’t have these “borders” until after settlement when county boundaries etc were established. To Henri and all my friends, all indigenous history is relevant and not just “stories”. The mistake is to fool ourselves into believing it didn’t happen here, after all, it happened, and it happened in Canada.

  14. Bruce Nicholson says:

    I think that ADJ has a grand suggestion. The Court House is the appropriate location for the statue. Put whatever documentation as would be appropriate for the County’s history but be accurate. Sir John A’s involvement in residential schools has been inaccurately slammed as he did not mandate enrolment when Prime Minister. And while you are having the plaques made, be sure to make some for the appropriate religions that managed those schools.

  15. ADJ says:

    “Holding Court” in a museum?? This statue is not an antique! What connection does a statue of a 19yr. old lawyer have to do with a museum? Ideally we would see it inside the Court house with all the information pertaining to his life and time here in PEC. It’s years later when he became PM that the worst in the man was exposed.

  16. Henri Garand says:

    The issue is not one of relevance but of proportion. Obviously, an exhibit telling the history of “Holding Court” would have to provide background on residential schools so as to explain how a piece of sidewalk art ended up in a museum. But two thirds of the proposed exhibition seems to be devoted to a memorial on the effects of residential schooling and a secular shrine to one of its young victims. The question is whether so much county museum space should be used to recount events that occurred outside the county.

    But if one follows SM’s line of reasoning, it would be even more appropriate to assign two thirds of museum space to the Indigenous settlement story prior to U.E.L. arrival in the county.

  17. angela says:

    Enough already. The statue was removed from Main Street, the public had its say and now it should go to the court house. A companion history of the residential schools can go as well in order to provide context. More public comment will no doubt see the proposed museum opposed and probably any other suggested site. There is no way to please everyone in this situation and it is time council stopped trying.

  18. Dennis Fox says:

    I really don’t see the benefit of the County reopening this debate. A good decision was arrived at to move the statue. I believe the museum is a good location – with accurate information to accompany the statue.

    The idea of placing the statue at the courthouse would be a serious problem – how could any aboriginal person feel safe in going to court at a place with that figure outside, representing the colonialization of Canada and the lack of true justice for our native people?

    Let’s just get on with the Macaulay Museum location and be done with it.

  19. SM says:

    These ‘non-county stories’ as Mr. Garand puts it are completely relevant. The County was ‘settled’ by United Empire Loyalists. Just whose land do you think those ‘Loyalists’ settled upon? Just whose history did the Residential School System attempt to eradicate? What the exhibit proposes is a compromise. We have heard the Sr.John A story in the official English version since we were kids. Now we will hear some context.

  20. ADJ says:

    I agree..Put the statue where it will do the most good, The County Jail and former court house. It’s where he tried his first case.Promote the touring of this building with it’s court room.cells and gallows. Simply the best place because of McDonalds history here in Picton. Really no connection to the church/museum as in his lawyer career.

  21. Henri Garand says:

    This article doesn’t describe fully the exhibit planned for the Macaulay Museum. The history of the creation, installation, and removal of “Holding Court” is just a small part. One third is devoted to the story of Chanie Wenjack and curated by the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund. Another third focuses on residential school survivor stories, curated by the Tsi Tyónnheht Onkwawén:na (TTO) Language and Cultural Centre based in the Tyendenaga reserve.

    One has to wonder why space in a county museum will be used to tell non-county stories.

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