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Heritage Advisory Committee will create response to Macdonald statue working group report

The Prince Edward Heritage Advisory Committee (PEHAC) has decided it will meet again to create a written response to the ‘Holding Court’ Statue Working Group’s recommendation to remove the bronze portrait of Sir John A Macdonald from downtown Picton.

PEHAC was directed by the mayor and council to receive the working group’s report and provide comment to assist council to make its decision on the fate of the statue at a Nov. 17 special meeting.

PEHAC member Liz Driver stated preference that the committee should not come up with a different recommendation, or endorse the working group decision, but to “simply discuss the report, issues arisen through process and things missing from the report, like Mohawks of Bay of Quinte Chief R. Don Maracle’s comments.

She also stated concern about the working group’s “secret” ranked ballot system and lack of summarization of public arguments in its report.

“I don’t want to state opinion. I want to make sure the report goes to council with all of PEHAC’s careful and nuanced consideration of it.”

“This process is an opportunity,” said member Peter Lockyer, noting every community is wrestling with its history and what to do with its past.

He seeks a thoughtful response that provides guidance to council and the community that “seeks to unite us around possibilities and creative solutions, rather than being so bitterly divided over this.”

PEHAC members Brendan O’Connor and councillor John Hirsch sat on the Working Group and both agreed there were “flaws” in the process, a lot of ‘sparring’ and that more community conversation is necessary to move forward in future.

O’Connor said the group’s hard work on a complex issue should be respected. He recommended PEHAC support the recommendation to remove and store the statue and initiate wider community discussion.

Hirsch specifically noted disappointment in the group’s lack of discussion about, and flaws in, its decision making process and noted discussion often evolved into dissertations from each side of the Macdonald camps.

He also stated a lengthy talk from Chief Maracle, at the first of nine meetings of the group, was not included in the working group’s report to PEHAC.

“He talked a lot about reconciliation and he talked about not erasing history and accepting it, in the fact that history exists, and it perhaps should be added to, rather than taken away from,” recounted Hirsch. “And yet we never got anything later on directly from the Chief, or from the representatives of the Mohawks of what their position was. I really wish we could have a chance to hear that.”

The working group was to adhere to the principles of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Lockyer stated the number one voice has to be from First Nations.

“I would be content if the First Nations advised ‘take it away because it’s insulting’. I can, even as someone on the Macdonald Project, I can say it was never meant to be that way, but if that’s how you feel, I can live with that,” said Lockyer. “I just don’t think they’re saying that. I don’t think the Truth and Reconciliation Commission said that. Chief Maracle has been consistent on these issues. He issued a statement about the vandalism in Montreal. It was basically, don’t delete history, add to it. Do a better job of telling the whole story of this country.

“We need to find things that unite, not divide us on a path forward and be clear about what the Indigenous are saying,” said Lockyer, suggesting the County change its mind on motions from councillor Bill Roberts, to support the repatriation of Forester Island and the relocation of the Gunshot Treaty monument, as they are “ugly, but significant history” in the County.

In moving forward, he suggested the County could also hire a First Nations consulting firm to produce “profound, systematic change” in a facilitated, longer process where “we all win”.

PEHAC plans to meet Nov. 4.

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  1. olmnonthemtn says:

    “Behind any campaign is the campaigner: the activist convinced of his own righteousness.
    The political activist reserves to himself the right to retrospectively edit our history for his satisfaction by removing monuments, those fixtures of civic life, embedded in the memories of generations. The activist often knows almost nothing about the object of his hatred—merely a garbled caricature of a person caught up in the conditions of her age—but the activist acts as if he were not also caught up in the conditions of his own age.”

    Alexander Adams British critic and artist

  2. Henri Garand says:

    I did not respond to the comment on using the Macdonald statue as an anchor because it was completely ridiculous. There’s a world of difference between a sculpture and a hunk of metal. The comment reminded me of the story of the blind Indian beggars who asked to examine a passing elephant. Each in turn feeling a leg, the tail, tusk and other body parts described the elephant as like a tree, a snake, a spear, etc. When it comes to matters of art, I at least have one eye.

    But given my belief in free speech, I support everyone’s right to make silly remarks. Indeed, I think they are usually useful in strengthening opponents’ positions.

  3. angela says:

    It is important to respect the rights and feelings of others but it is also vital to draw the line. Today there is a news story stating that Whole Foods will not allow its employees to wear poppies this year. It might pave the way for requests to mark other occasions/causes. And the pins on poppies are sharp. There could be injuries. When it comes to the statue those opposed to it care not one whit for the feelings of those who want it to stay. They call them racists. They are determined to prove their point by forcing the removal of a piece of sidewalk art that marks the beginning of the legal career of Canada’s first prime minister who had early ties to the county. If it is so important to them why did the statue’s opponents not picket the unveiling? Why did they not come before council in a group to make their feelings known? We now live in a society where a Remembrance Day poppy is a potential weapon or source of injury and those who supposedly fight for social justice see a racist lurking around every corner. This is the scariest part of all.

  4. Dennis Fox says:

    I appreciate your reaction to my comment – “use the the statue as an anchor for the Glenora Ferry!” The comment was made to get the attention of those who are trying to suggest that the statue has great “sidewalk” artistic value and that alone should be enough reason to keep it where it is – which is a ridiculous argument. I felt too many were buying into that perverse reasoning without thinking about the impact that had on others. Do you have any idea how much the very presence of that statue is hurtful to so many aboriginal and Chinese people? As a white British descendant, the statue offends me! I find it an embarrassment to modern Canadian values. Gone are the days when any of us should feel any allegiance to Britain and the good old boys club.

    If my “anchor”comment got your attention and got you thinking – GREAT!

    Then again, my comment was posted two(2) days ago and other than you, it obviously hasn’t upset anyone else. But I do appreciate your right to say so – and I don’t find that hurtful at all.

  5. Mark says:

    To suggest seriously or in sarcastic jest that Sir John A be used as an anchor is so hurtful to the many that support the statue. It does nothing to encourage reasonable discussions and only causes more devide.

  6. KB says:

    Nobody objected to it’s creation and erection? I know numerous complaints were raised, and I was one of those. I repeat, the issue was at the time why there was no public input, and it’s taken this long for the global community and the political representatives to address it. It ought never should have happened.

  7. angela says:

    When plans for the Macdonald statue first were reported in local newspapers no protestors voiced their concerns. The weeks passed, fundraising continued, and there was a preview of the work in progress. Still no complaints. Then came the unveiling on Canada Day 2015. Still no protestors, no letters to the editor voicing indignation. With all of the publicity generated by this project from start to finish no protests were heard. Now, suddenly a small group of people have come out of the woodwork to voice righteous indignation. They are calling for removal of the statue and declaring it an affront to their feelings. One has to wonder why they chose not to come forward in the beginning. Somehow they seem to have developed their social conscience after the fact. The statue has been there for more than five years- a long time apparently was necessary for protestors to stockpile ammunition and take aim at Sir John. I wonder who will be next?

  8. Dennis Fox says:

    The presentation ceremony and who was present has been mentioned as if that is meaningful I have nothing at all against those who attended, but we need to remember that a federal election was coming within months and a provincial one was on the horizon too. To see such an event attract politicians should not be a surprise nor should it be something that impresses anyone. However, I do find it interesting that no one from either the aboriginal or Chinese community were invited – that is meaningful and very shortsighted.

    Well before 2015, the history of Macdonald’s mistreatment of these groups was well documented in our history books. The murder of many aboriginal women was also at the forefront of the news at this time – leading soon to the Truth and Reconciliation process.

    By 2020, the public’s view of our true history has taken on a more progressive and broader vision – where a statue comes under scrutiny based on historical facts and not on myths, legends and fabrications. Once again, some try to justify the presence of the statue by taking refuge in the argument that it is a valued piece of sidewalk art – hardly a good reason for keeping a statue of a bigot and racist that offends so many.

    Removing the statue from its current location is the right solution. If some want to appreciate its artistic merits, then place it in an art gallery or in a side street park, or if all else fails, use it as an anchor for the Glenora Ferry!

  9. KB says:

    Everyone is entitled to share how they feel aside from interpretations and in situations like this we need to use caution about how we speak about other peoples views and experiences.
    I do not recall ever being canvassed as a tax payor as to whether or not I supported this “venture” – artistic or otherwise.
    At the erection and unveiling prominent people showed up to pat themselves on the back for something that ought never should have been done in the first place. I feel the same way today as I did about it then.

  10. Henri Garand says:

    There’s no doubt that the Macdonald statue arouses strong feelings. Some are distressed by the sight of it, while others want to feel good about showing sensitivity to that distress. But it’s not incumbent on everyone to share these feelings when a work of art (not just in my opinion) can be interpreted in multiple ways.

    These feelings are quite independent of the context of this particular statue, and they certainly weren’t prominent a scarce five years ago when it was erected in 2015. Those at the event included Premier Kathleen Wynn, former Prime Minister Kim Campbell, and PEC Mayor Robert Quaif, none of whom were embarrassed to attend. (For the record, I was not present.) This, of course, was before Woke enlightenment when Macdonald’s reputation was not defined exclusively in terms of racism. Back in the dark age of 2015 attendees presumably had a wider perspective and recognized the many other aspects of Macdonald’s long political career.

    In 2020, the field of vision has narrowed and historic guilt requires a scapegoat. Ask yourself these questions: Would you have the same feelings if the statue depicted a child and commemorated Macdonald’s birth in Picton? In other words, is there now only one way of looking at a statue identified as Macdonald? Must everything that bears his name be purged?

    If the answer to these questions is always YES, then there’s little point in discussing a particular statue because the issue does not involve art or local history. It’s not even a political but a psychosocial problem, and removal of statues is a form of collective therapy.

  11. KB says:

    Please please, don’t put him at the Court House on Union St. That will contribute to the problem here. For instance, myself as a native, having to attend a local government building and seeing that statue and what it represents, would cause me to feel the local government supports his ideology. Placing him in a local government building perpetuates this problem. Just get rid of him. There are so many non fiction characters in our history books who have compiled great accomplishments but that doesn’t mean we have to see statues everywhere.

  12. Dennis Fox says:

    Moving the statue in no way changes nor cancels anyone’s history, but it does accurately reflect what many believe we need to do to rectify our history. I believe that Canadian culture and our history can survive this move. By moving the statue, we recognize the real and factually recorded damage that Macdonald and the politicians of the day did to the aboriginal and Chinese cultures – damage that is still carried over into today.(Who is really guilty of Cancel Culture?)

    Try to imagine if you are aboriginal or Chinese and had relatives who were either forcibly removed from their home to attend residential schools or had ancestors die building Macdonald’s national railroad and had to pay a labour tax to do it – and then years later relatives have to walk by his statue on Main Street or when going to the library. What an insult that is. Then to have some argue for it to remain because in their opinion it is a piece of sidewalk art – those same people claim its removal is Cancel Culture.
    I believe the people of Picton can do the right thing by removing John A and still feel proud of our history. He will still be Canada’s first PM and a Founder of Confederation – and he practised law in Picton, However, due to his policies and attitudes, his statue cannot be displayed on Main St. because our generation are left with the mess to clean up. But life goes on – in a proud peace.

  13. Henri Garand says:

    I find it strange that the Working Group’s recommendation and so much of the supportive comment ignore the specific historical basis for the Macdonald statue and its value as a work of art.

    Can people not see what is before their eyes? First, the statue specifically references Macdonald’s life in Picton prior to his political career. The statue cannot be mistaken for the typical lifetime tribute of a man on a pedestal. Indeed, the ground-level image invites inquiry into its context and significance.

    Second, though one may disagree about the artistic merit of the statue, one cannot simply dismiss it out of hand. Holding Court was produced by an internationally recognized sculptor. It’s also a unique piece of sidewalk art, without multiple copies elsewhere.

    Given these facts, it’s important to consider the statue in terms of both art and Picton’s history rather than jump on the bandwagon of Cancel Culture and regurgitate currently popular generalities.

  14. Susan says:

    I find it a little rich to congratulate a working committee that through some of it’s own members was flawed, contentious, bias to their own position and failed to report all factual information. One need not look any further than the ommission of Chief Maracles opinion.

  15. olmnonthemtn says:

    I understand the background of the Indian Act my point is that the liberals were also complicit in the restriction of Native rights they were also concerned that Natives would become dependent on government food handouts and demanded that they should be restricted.

    Wilfrid Laurier opposed Indo-Canadian immigration to Canada, arguing that they couldn’t handle the cold. Laurier also raised the Chinese Head Tax and saw it as a righteous thing for Canada to settle land taken from “savage nations.”noting that they did not have the capacity on their own to develop the land. He reminded the the right for Natives to vote

  16. Dennis Fox says:

    I once again want to congratulate the Working Committee for their decision. No doubt their discussions must have been interesting. Given the recent attempts to deflect this issue from being a human rights issue to of all things a discussion on artistic merit – I hope the Committee and the PECHAC will keep its focus on the real issue – that being supporting basic human rights for our aboriginal people.

    I do appreciate the debate around this issue of the statue. It has helped me to understand the challenges that this Committee was facing…

    I can’t quite believe the level of colonial and white privilege mentality that still exist in some small quarters of PEC. The desire to hold on to the past is strong – which in itself is not bad, but it must be based on fact and reality. Sadly far too many have no idea of Canadian history and are prepared to hide behind the argument that this statue has unproven artistic merit and that alone is more important than any human rights issue – which we all know is wrong.

    The recent TV ads from the UN reminding Canadians of the lack of basic human rights given to our native people still needs to be addressed – the removal of this statue is a good start.

  17. Paul Cole says:

    olmnonthemtn The *Indian* Act is actually an amended and renamed act it began as the Gradual Civilization act 1857 pre confederation in the Province of Canada when John Macdonald and Étienne-Paschal Taché were co Premieres (upper and lower Canada). It was amended and renamed the Gradual Enfranchisement Act 1869 the Prime Minister was John Macdonald that act was amended and renamed again the *Indian* Act 1876 the Prime Minister was Alexander Mackenzie the purpose was to consolidate other existing laws in regards to Indigenous People from across Canada after confederation into one one act The *Indian* Act. That’s the true history

  18. olmnonthemtn says:

    Interesting it was under Alexander Mackenzie and the Liberal government who in 1876 enacted the Indian Act which placed as noted many of the restrictions on native people. While Pierre Trudeau’s White Paper which was to address Indian Act issues was centred on assimilation.

    The position of Justice Sinclair of the TRC is that reconciliation should be shared between native and non-natives. Iconoclasm threatens the needed good will and joint effort. Catherine McKenna Environment Minister has asked the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada how to deal with the issue of controversial historical figures. She commented that: “I personally believe that it’s important that we recognize our history – the good and bad – and that we tell stories, because it’s by telling stories we recognize that we can do better.” She supports Justice Sinclair position that representations of contentious figures be accompanied with a second statue or monument that reflect the aboriginal perspective.

  19. Susan says:

    Chief Maracles words are significant in not erasing history, accepting it, added to rather than taken away. The working group in not reporting all opinions has failed and gives the appearance of pushing a one sided agenda.

  20. Dennis Fox says:

    I understand and can respect the difficulty of this decision – but for those who are suggesting that the First Nations people should give the direction or to make the decision is unfair and wrong. Like it or not, the truth of this matter is clear – this is a white people problem created by white people and the solution has to come from us.

    To date, far too many opinions reflect “White Privilege” – meaning that many still believe there is no problem with the John A. statue and that it should remain because his actions took place over a century ago and that he was a man of his time.

    Space here does not allow me to go deeply into this issue, but I want to remind people that the political ramifications of John A’s policies are still felt and experienced into modern times by our aboriginal people – – – they were not allowed to hire a lawyer to fight their land claims until the 1950’s, they were not allowed to vote until the 1960’s, in 1939 the Supreme Court had to decide if the Inuit were Canadians or Indian. Our government did not want to reimburse them under the Indian Act and forced thousands of Inuit into the degrading process of having their body parts measured – eyes,teeth, noses, toes, fingers to prove they were not aboriginal – the court sided with the native people.

    More recently there are court challenges because of the 1950 and 1960 SCOOP – where children were literally taken by our government and sold to white families in Canada, the US and in Europe. It was felt they were better off with strangers, than being with their family.

    It is time for our generation to end the bigotry – moving a statue is a small act, but it will have great meaning. It is time for the decision to be made to move it!

  21. Mark says:

    How and why could this working group leave out comments and opinion from Chief Maracle in their report? That is a serious ommission.

  22. David Harrington says:

    Install at court house on union street

  23. Paul Cole says:

    First and foremost Indigenous Peoples did not ask for the removal of the statue or the removal of names from institutions. To many time Indigenous People have been scapegoated, If Mr. Sinclair or Chief Miracle were to outright call for the statues removal or having names removed from institutions they would be seen as vengeful or angry. Indigenous People have told their truths the ball so to speak is in every other communities court to do what’s right based on the truth.

  24. olmnonthemtn says:

    Hmm maybe the Sir John A holding court was found guilty by a kangaroo court

    As noted in a previous comment Justice Sinclair Chairman of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission warned: “The problem I have with the overall approach to tearing down statues and buildings is that is counterproductive to … reconciliation because it almost smacks of revenge or smacks of acts of anger, but in reality, what we are trying to do, is we are trying to create more balance in the relationship.”

    “The toleration we extend towards symbols of former regimes and proponents of ideas with which we disagree shows our willingness to be honest about our nations’ pasts. To accept our flaws as a necessary part of our development is to display the maturity, restraint and empathy that define the confident yet self-critical nation. For if we cannot stand the sight of a dead political opponent carved in stone, how can we restrain ourselves in the face of a living political opponent who speaks against us?”

    Alexander Adams: Iconoclasm and the Erasing of History

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