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County to consult public on Sir John A. Macdonald statue

Sir John A

The municipality will seek public feedback in early 2020 on the Sir John A. Macdonald statue that was re-installed in front of the library on Picton Main Street.

“We want to hear ideas about ways we can recognize our first Prime Minister’s complex legacy,” said Mayor Steve Ferguson. “I am hopeful that this consultation, together with the library’s speaker series, will help our community think more deeply about the process of reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples.”

Details about the consultation process is to be announced in the coming weeks. County staff are to gather public input and provide council with a report outlining the findings and possible options.

Sculptor Ruth Abernethy’s artwork Holding Court was in storage for the past several months while landscaping work took place in front of The Armoury. The bronze statue is now re-located on the forecourt of the Picton Library, a short distance east of its former location.

Ruth Abernethy’s artwork Holding Court depicts the moment when the teenage Macdonald won his first court case in the Picton Courthouse on Oct. 8, 1834 before a judge and jury.

The Prince Edward County Public Library is hosting a speaker series to explore the broader historical context of Canada’s first prime minister.

The first talk, held in November, featured Niigaanwewidam (Niigaan) Sinclair, an award-winning writer, editor, activist, and a regular commentator on Indigenous issues. More events will take place in the winter and spring of 2020.

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  1. Carol-Ann McNeil says:

    Sir John A. Macdonald’s Canadian-sculpted statue invites the viewer to learn, analyse, evaluate. A teachable moment. There are plenty of targets for righteous indignation in the world right now. Human trafficking, slavery, Native injustices, opioid pushers, antisemitism, gay-bashing, subjugation of women….. No need to look back almost 200 years and attack a person who acted in accordance with the mores of the times, and the people who elected him. Canada’s first Prime Minister launched his career in our town — and the statue is doing its job by drawing attention to this fact. QE Public School Class of 1969. PECI Class of 1974. Picton, ON

  2. Henri Garand says:

    Thank you, Paul, for pointing out that Macdonald was both the defendant and the defense counsel in the scene this statue depicts. It certainly explains the empty chair in the prisoner’s dock.

    How do we then interpret this work of art? It seems to hold much more complexity than I first thought. A typical statue of a “Great Man” strives to be a timeless display of pomp and power, placing the figure on a pedestal and sometimes astride a horse. The Picton statue is ambiguous, focusing on a single event in Macdonald’s life. On one hand, it shows a clever young fellow triumphant in court. On the other, it alludes not just to a youthful folly but his lifelong problem with alcohol, as well as his casual relationship with honesty and truth. Even without an accompanying critical plaque the context of this statue subverts Macdonald’s historic status, intimates his flawed humanity, and perhaps questions the very nature of public regard.

  3. Gary says:

    The County would be wise to turn their attention to tax rates, water rates and deteriorating roads and leave Sir John A, be. Happy New Year.

  4. Angela says:

    Well ADJ as the story goes Sir John and some young companions found a dead horse somewhere in the area of the church and thought it would be a fine joke to drag it into the pulpit. They proceeded to do so and the corpse was discovered by the old sexton whom I believe ran screaming into the street convinced he had seen the devil himself.

  5. Paul Cole says:

    Mark I believe the statue represents John MacDonald’s very first court case and his first court case was him defending himself for a drunken brawl (Assault) he got into on Main St. Picton

  6. ADJ says:

    Hoping someone can retell the story of John A. dragging a horse carcass into the court room…that’s all I remember of it.

  7. Mark says:

    Obviously found “not guilty”, so confused why this would be raised.

  8. Paul Cole says:

    I may be mistaken but John A MacDonald’s first case was him defending himself for a drunken brawl he got into on the Main Street of Picton…

  9. Emily says:

    People now, feeling well educated and living in luxury thru convenient work advantages or more common inheritances from relatives that worked hard and saved in a depression feel they can judge the past. No one truly knows how they would have reacted in attempting to build a Country and dealing with natives. If that is truly how they feel while living in comfort, perhaps we all need to leave and return the lands. Some food for thought.

  10. Henri Garand says:

    I think the statue should be respected on its own terms and for the donors’ intentions. It’s meant to acknowledge Macdonald’s brief association with Picton, when he was neither a celebrated nor controversial figure. Macdonald is depicted not on a pedestal but at ground level like the viewers. He is standing outside the gate for the accused, not inside it. The statue is titled “Holding Court,” not “On Trial.”

  11. Jacquie says:

    John A is part of our history. Some is good, some less.
    We cannot ignore everything in history that we do not agree with.
    We just have to ensure that the same mistakes are not duplicated.

  12. Jack Dall says:

    We will all miss you Dennis but just before you go.

    Whose “accurate description” are you proposing be used , Dennis Fox’s ? Mine? The local chief? The local librarian, The list and opinions are endless.
    Put his name on it and his place in history
    People can decide for themselves as obvipusly you already have what respect or otherwise thoughts they have on the man.

  13. Henri Garand says:

    It would probably be very, perhaps too, costly to produce a bronze plaque that deals with the many controversial complexities of Macdonald’s career. But the library site provides a good solution. A plaque could simply identify the issue(s) and direct readers to a library display with a lengthy, nuanced account. This would truly educate those who want to understand the man and his time.

  14. Angela says:

    Most people are capable of forming their own opinions of Sir John’s actions. Of course an addendum would be highly critical. It would be an exercise in finger pointing with the goal of saying “he may have gotten a statue but he did not deserve one. Sir John is standing right outside the library and those interested in learning more about him have only to walk through its doors to discover the rest of the story. That is the proper place for the addendum.

  15. Dennis Fox says:

    I don’t know what more can be said on this matter – but no one suggested that a “highly critical addendum” should accompany the statue. Once again, some people are not reading the comments of others. What I have suggested on several occasions was to include an “accurate description” of John A’s. decisions and policies(both positive and negative) during his time as our PM. If people are afraid that the truth may harm his reputation or darken his accomplishments, then that’s too bad. The truth needs to be told – so let the public who reads make up their own mind. Hiding the truth will not solve anything – other than appeasing those who are afraid of it. If that happens, then those trying to protect Macdonald are truly not confident in his accomplishments and do him even a greater disservice.

    Unless new information comes forward in future comments, I’m finished with this topic.

  16. Angela says:

    The idea of a highly critical addendum to accompany the statue is ridiculous. Many great men have made mistakes but their accomplishments outweighed them in the big picture. There was a time and an opportunity to oppose the statue. Surely its detractors read the newspaper stories about it and saw the preliminary photos of Ruth Abernethy’s work. That was the time to go before council with any complaints. Pleading lack of opportunity to protest is a weak excuse. It was never a secret.

  17. Dennis Fox says:

    Susan – while I can respect your point of view, it is much different than mine. And isn’t this a good example of why an accurate description of John A. is needed to accompany the statue?

  18. Susan says:

    Sir John was a fine human being not much different than most of us other than the fact he knew how to build a Country. Mistakes yes, who hasn’t, but without him we wouldn’t be enjoying this great Canada with the right to speak freely and tear down a leader from the long past.

  19. Dennis Fox says:

    I don’t believe our democracy defines a time limit on lodging complaints and I don’t recall the public being invited (as they are now) to have input into the appropriateness of this statue.

    However, it is time to deal with the facts – John A. was not a very good human being – he didn’t like people of colour, he charged the Chinese $50/head for coming to Canada to work for low wages on the CPR, and as we know he greatly disliked our aboriginal people and tried to exterminate them. He was also guilty of taking kickbacks from the CPR and lost his position as our first PM because of it – but that too is another story for another time – but one that should be included with the statue.

    Any offence taken now to the questioning of the Macdonald statue is unimportant compared to the offence that the statue of such a person causes to a great many people. In other communities his name has been taken from schools and statues removed – I don’t hear anyone demanding the same here, but maybe we should.

    I have no problem recognizing him as our first PM, but a description of his time as our PM must be placed with the statue – otherwise, the silence surrounding Macdonald will only support the racist attitude he promoted as our PM towards aboriginal people – an attitude that is still with us today across Canada. Here in Picton we have the chance to change that.

  20. Angela says:

    Well put, Jack. The negativity surrounding the statue is unlikely to reach the level of forcing its removal and serves only as a spoiler that unjustly tarnishes the efforts of those who worked long and hard to make this project a reality. The time to object was when the statue was initially proposed and that ship has sailed.

  21. Jack Dall says:

    Put the statue back where the group who invested the time and money to create it wanted it placed. Identify it for what it is. A bronze of John A MacDonald. As to his actions both good and bad in the history of our country let the viewer form ther own opinions as to how they see them..
    Neither side of this discussion were by any means saints but both did have meaningful contributions in creating the country that we are today.

  22. Paul Cole says:

    Emily Indigenous People of Canada are finding and using loopholes in the “Indian Act” specifically the tax exemption section 87 of the “Indian Act” and benefitting from it and more power to them its about time…

  23. Paul Cole says:

    Gary the Iroquois Confederacy consisted of Five Nations, Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga, and Seneca. Sometime after 1722 the Tuscarora people were added creating what today is called The Six Nations. These Five Nations inhabited areas all along the North Shore of Lake Ontario including Prince Edward County, Mohawks were in fact here in The County long before there was a Canada, US border and long before the first European Immigrants arrived. Lake On The Mountain folklore says ” The Mohawk peoples called the lake Onokenoga, or Lake of the Gods, and believed that spirits dwelled within its deep waters. Each spring they offered gifts to the spirits to ensure a successful crop in the coming year. With all due respect Sir…

  24. Emily says:

    If Sir John A was hoping for entreupneur’s in a newly formed Canada, Tyendinagua seems to be doing very well. Building boom plus!

  25. Gary says:

    With all do respect, I was speaking to the arrival of the Mohawks in “our” region.

  26. Paul Cole says:

    Gary if you go here it gives a pretty good example of the earliest settlers of Prince Edward County… http://www.pec.on.ca/pehac/historic_notes.html

  27. Paul Cole says:

    The Iroquois Confederacy or Haudenosaunee settled here before the Mississauga Indians and after the Mound Builders ( Paleo-Indians) who arrived in Prince Edward County some 12.000 years ago. There was a history here before European Immigrants arrived

  28. Gary says:

    If I am correct and I believe I am, the Bay of Quinte Mohawks arrived here from the States relatively the same time as the United Empire Loyalists. They were not here prior.

  29. Henri Garand says:

    Relocating the statue to the Court House or Shire Hall is essentially relegating it. How many pedestrians would pass by or motorists stop for closer inspection? “Holding Court” is approachable public art meant to be viewed at sidewalk level, not tucked away where it can be ignored or easily vandalized like the monuments in Glenwood Cemetery.

  30. Angela says:

    What better site could there be for the statue? If it were at the court house far fewer people would see it. The statue captures a moment in time – a young lawyer’s first case. It has been said that there is a little good in the worst of men and a little bad in the best. So he wasn’t perfect but it would seem that he did a lot more that was right for this country than was wrong.

  31. Paul Cole says:

    I’m a “Status Indian” Bay of Quite Mohawks I’m not complaining about the Statue I think it should be left where it is BUT with the Honest Truth on a plaque beside it..

  32. Dennis Fox says:

    After reading through these comments, it is obvious that some are not reading anything that others have posted. No one has suggested to take away the statue and hide it, but have suggested re-locating it to a different site, Regardless of where the statue sits, why can’t an accurate representation of the truth about John A. be displayed with it? I haven’t heard a good reason why this can’t happen, and as I explained previously, the excuse of not judging Macdonald by today’s standards is a ridiculous argument to defend his actions from a hundred years or so ago. For those with a religious background, if we can’t judge the actions of the past because we now have a different value systems – then just what good are the Ten Commandments? Weren’t they written thousands of years ago?

  33. Henri Garand says:

    The Macdonald statue is appropriately located on Picton’s library grounds. A library doesn’t contain only references to the history we would like to acknowledge. It contains the complete record for those who want to understand the full human story.

    This statue commemorates a moment in history when the young John A. Macdonald briefly practiced law in Picton. This was many years before he became a Father of Confederation and Canada’s first Prime Minister, before he made controversial decisions about indigenous residential schools, the execution of Louis Riel, and taxation of migrant Chinese laborers, and also long before he expanded Canada from Ontario to the Pacific Coast.

    Why does Truth and Reconciliation narrow the focus to one part of Macdonald’s political life and render everything else unworthy of recognition? If it’s been shameful to deny the effects of residential schools, surely it would also be shameful, as well as absurd, to obliterate every public image of Macdonald or move Picton’s statue to an inconspicuous site. A new plaque, if thought necessary, could refer to Macdonald’s controversial career and direct readers to the library for the details.

  34. Angela says:

    There has never been public complaint here about Sir John until now and those complaining waited until the statue was a fait accompli. I have yet to see a complaint from a Native person. It has always been a source of local pride that Sir John had ties to our county. What sort of reaction do you expect from the locals when they are told that the statue they viewed so proudly when it was unveiled here on Canada Day a few years ago is an abomination? And how do you explain why strong protests were not voiced by many when the statue was first proposed and later as the project moved forward? Sir John is being judged by today’s standards and time has taught us a great deal. What we consider a grievous wrong today was not seen in the same light in his day. If the statue is taken down it is a certainty that there will be strong resentment on the part of locals who took pride in the fact that Canada’s first Prime Minister once lived and worked in Picton. Removal of the statue would be a Pyrrhic victory.

  35. Paul Cole says:

    I don’t think removing the statue is the right thing to do, but an honest telling of the truth along with it would mean a lot to Indigenous People. It was not only John A MacDonald who implemented oppressive actions against The Indigenous People of Canada (a lot of you won’t like what I say next) but all the early Immigrants who supported his Government played a part as well…

  36. Paul Cole says:

    You all need to read the Indian Act. What ever John MacDonald did for the “Canadian” people back then surely did not have the best interests of the Indigenous people in mind. It was all about control of the land instead of dealing with Indigenous People in good faith they just took it offering very little in return.

  37. Michelle says:

    I am very proud that smaĺl town Picton courageously displays our Father of Confederation.

  38. Dennis Fox says:

    I still believe that having an explanation of his policies and actions(both positive and negative) will go a long way to satisfying all who are interested – and isn’t that the whole point behind consulting with the public?

    The idea that somehow time has changed the meaning of such actions as, killing innocent people, slavery, forcible separation of children from their parents, forced confinement onto reservations, breaking of treaties and genocide, etc.. is one idea that I don’t buy into.

    If our history is to be a proud one and a lasting one, then it should be based on the truth. We are Canadians and don’t need to “enhance” our history like they do south of the border – a place where so few know their real history and where everyone is a legend. Lets stay with the facts – we can handle it I’m sure.

  39. Susan says:

    Without Sir John A, we or the indigenous folks would not have a Country to argue about. We have all failed in some ways, few of us if any have built a Country we are so prud of.

  40. Mark says:

    I thought the Court House always made perfect sense as that is where Sir John presented his first case and went on to build a Country. One must remember, that in past times, the majority of folks agreed with actiins taken then. We learn and move forward, that’s what makes Canada so great. Sir John A needs to stand proud and taĺl in this Town. Just really pleased he is back.

  41. Angela says:

    The fact that Sir John had strong ties to Prince Edward County historically has been a source of pride here. Stories about him often have been featured in local books and magazines. No one ever complained about him or the statue until now. When Sir John died wagonloads of county farmers travelled to Kingston for his funeral. Now there is a great hue and cry about his “terrible racist actions” and assertions that the statue has no place in our town. Who is complaining? Not county natives or Native peoples but those who have chosen to come to Prince Edward County from other areas and call it home. Sir John’s ties to this county are the rightful heritage of all born here. He was the secretary of our fair board, he tried his first case here,in our court house, he once walked our streets. These stories belong to us. We find our true heritage in the communities of our birth. Just as moving to Holland would not make one Dutch, choosing to live in the county does not make our history and our heritage theirs. I respect their right to see Sir John in a different light but since they were curiously silent throughout the time period when the statue was proposed and created it would seem that they have no right to complain now.

  42. Dave Macdonald says:

    As a student of history, it constantly amazes me how we interpret ‘good’ and ‘bad’.
    Sir John A., as a human, did both. Using our current sense of right and wrong, his wrongs now seem to outweigh his rights.
    Every government we’ve had in Canada since Confederation has chosen to use the ‘mandate’ of the Canadian people to make decisions they feel would be best for everyone, Some are successes and some are failures. Do we honour them for their successes, or despise them for their failures?
    Clearly, Sir John’s residential school failure outweighs the fact that he fought and won the right for native Canadians to vote (which was rescinded by the Laurier government), and bound the country together under threat of American takeover. But this is typical of governments trying to solve situations they don’t understand.
    Every Canadian government since Confederation has tried to solve the ‘Indian problem’ with a complete ignorance of the society they are trying to ‘fix’. Macdonald can join a long string of Prime Ministers who have failed to do the one thing that could fix it all: Understanding.

  43. Dennis Fox says:

    I believe County Council are doing the right thing by asking the community for input – like it or not, the statue of John A’. has created many questions about his history and reputation – and rightfully so.

    I believe what might satisfy both sides in this debate is the truth about MacDonald. Have a historically accurate account, written on a plaque next to the statue, of his time as our PM explaining both the good things he did and the not so good things – then allow the reader to decide where John A. belongs in their heart and in our history.

    On a personal note, I simply don’t like the artistic merits of the statue nor its location – just too large and out of proportion for the location on Main St. How about either at Shire Hall or at the Courthouse?

  44. Angela says:

    The new location is great and so is the statue.

  45. Chuck says:

    Welcome back John. Looking good!

  46. Jim Moorebaum says:

    Notwithstanding the need of PE County to have heroes , this paper hero implemented terrible racist actions against Canada’s First Nations that are still having downstream effects with third world conditions in Canada’s reservations .
    Why would the Shire blatantly plant his image again in front the Library without public consultation?
    They are continuing his racist tradition in my opinion. Remove it or put a bronze statue of a native street person down and out at the bigot’s feet if you want a truthful representation of the John A legacy .
    Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah

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