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Picton resident woke to Indigenous history wants council to re-think Sir John’s return

Sir John A Macdonald sculpture ‘Holding Court’.

A Picton resident is asking council to re-think the re-installation of the Sir John A Macdonald sculpture at the library.

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

Paul Allen was inspired to speak to council after attending the library’s full-house presentation earlier this month by Dr. Niigaan Sinclair, on Sir John A Macdonald’s mistreatment of Indigenous children, women, and men in Canada.

Sinclair is an associate professor at the University of Manitoba, an award-winning writer, editor, activist and regular commentator on Indigenous issues. His father, Justice Murray Sinclair, was the chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

His presentation was the first in a series of talks being scheduled in the County to coincide with the re-installation of “Holding Court” – a sculpture depicting the start of Sir John A Macdonald’s legal career
in Picton.

“I admit that I’ve not been particularly conscientious in my own response to Dr. Sinclair’s father’s call for truth and reconciliation,” says Allen in his deputation.
“I learned many profoundly troubling things about the abuse of Indigenous peoples in Canada on Tuesday evening.”

Allen notes he’s also aware of various controversies surrounding public monuments to Sir John A Macdonald and other figures who played major roles in this shameful part of the nation’s history, “though I hadn’t paid any of them especially close attention. On Tuesday evening, I learned much more about how different
communities across Canada have been struggling with these difficult issues.”

Allen wants council to defer the re-installation of ‘Holding Court’ until there’s been further opportunity for residents “to learn of this pending change in our common space and to share their perspectives with council.

“I worry that no amount of interest in people’s opinions after the fact will make up for an apparent lack of interest beforehand,” he states.

Holding Court was commissioned by the MacDonald Project of Prince Edward County in 2010, and presented on Canada Day in 2015 to celebrate the bicentennial of his birth and his connections to the County. Click here for details. 

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  1. Dennis Fox says:

    The word that needs to be remembered is “compromise.” If some enjoy the warm and fuzzy feeling that John A. gives them, so be it – but remember that he does not reflect the values of today and that is where we live in the “now” and we need to find ways to mend the past harms that many carried out on our indigenous people. Why? Because it is the right thing to do.

    I haven’t heard anyone say not to recognize JAM as our first PM, nor have I heard anyone say to melt down the statue. I have suggested and have read others state that a history of both the positive and not so positive aspects of John A. be remembered.

    What’s wrong with just telling the truth about one of our historic figures? I await to hear the excuse not to.

  2. Graham says:

    What happened those many years ago had Nothing to do with any of us including the Indigenous people (since they cast the first stone) and some of ‘their’ practices of the past.The majority of Canadians open their doors, wallets & hearts to all peoples. We WILL celebrate Sir John A – Canada’s first PM .

  3. Paul Cole says:

    I think these types of discussions are a good thing as a “Status Indian” I think John A McDonald should be relocated. Truthful conversation is the beginning of Reconciliation and regardless of the archaic Indian Act and attempts at assimilation the Indigenous People of Canada are slowly regaining their Dignity as truths are revealed and acknowledged. Undoing the damage will take time but I believe it has finally started…

  4. Mark says:

    I believe few us make sound decision making based upon a cartoon. It is quite obvious this community supports the Sir John A statue recognizing the start of his legal career in Picton. Further this issue is a little late as Council has already approved the installation. This is simply a relocation,

  5. Dennis Fox says:

    Obviously, the hundreds of years of journalism history and the importance of editorial cartoons is lost and unknown to some of you. One can only assume that the importance and understanding of Canadian history is equally as unknown to the same people.

  6. LB says:

    There are many places and towns that associate themselves with
    notorious people whose fame is derived from an historic event or a life time of service and accomplishment. So why do towns do this? Sometimes to honour the history of a broader area (Ontario for example, which is noble), sometimes to acknowledge the proud history of the town and the connection to the historic event or person (noble but sometimes a little self serving depending on the how much the town actually contributed to the history) and sometimes to promote tourism and put the town or place on the map (come visit the place where …).

    The Picton Sir John A. statue was intended to “remind Canadians that the nation’s first prime minister began his career in law and public administration in Picton. [note the period there] He rose from humble beginnings as the son of an immigrant shopkeeper and miller in the Quinte region to become the principal architect of Canada.” (quote from The Macdonald Project of Prince Edward County chair David Warrick)

    So perhaps the statue should only denote and represent the first sentence above … as intended. The 2nd sentence only serves to give the most identifiable context to the first.

    Attributing any additional representative message or meaning to the history of Sir John A. via the statue, good or bad, beyond the first sentence is self serving and quite frankly, a little arrogant Picton.

  7. Angela says:

    Bruce is right. The statue will go back in place and add significantly to the streetscape. Why spoil it with a lot of after the fact controversy? Who depends on cartoonists for their take on any subject?

  8. Bruce Nicholson says:

    Let’s move the statue to the library site and enjoy this beautiful piece of art in tribute to a significant Canadian. We must be careful not to apply today’s sentiments to times of over 150 years ago. None of of us today lived in that environment and yet so many are quick to become critical.

  9. Paul Cole says:

    “a great Canadian with County roots” John A McDonald stood in the House of Commons and said this in regards to the possible annexation of Canada by the United States. “A British subject I was born and a British subject I will die” according to Hansard. John A McDonald never considered himself a Canadian and neither should we…

  10. Gary says:

    Relying on a a cartoonist is a little weak. Sir John will be relocated and stand proud.

  11. Dennis Fox says:

    Political correctness has nothing to do with relating the historical facts about our first PM. Take a look at today’s Wellington Times – Tim Snyder’s editorial cartoon sums it up better than I can.

  12. Gary says:

    I fail to see where “many” have had a problem with Sir John A being displayed. There were few if any when the original placement took place, in fact it was widely celebrated. This is a simple moving of location . Poltical correction doesn’t change history of a great Canadian with County roots.

  13. Dennis Fox says:

    It should be obvious by now that there are many in the community who are uncomfortable with the statue and the status quo – they feel more discussion is needed. I believe that any decision can be reviewed or re-considered at any time and there is no such thing as an imposed time limit for that to happen in.

    As I stated before, an explanation accompanying the statue describing both sides of John A. is a solution to this debate. The last thing I want to see is a false picture of our historical people being painted in American style propaganda – where legends are created based on false information and the truth becomes like a wisp of smoke on a windy day. Stay with the facts and the problem will be solved.

  14. Angela says:

    Funny, but it seems to me there was considerable press coverage about the intended statue in the beginning. There were periodic updates as the project went ahead. Two or three sites were considered including the court house and anyone who wanted to have a say could have come forward then. The relocation of the Christmas tree was announced as a fait accompli.No one had an opportunity to question it. There was zero chance to object.

  15. Dennis Fox says:

    The purpose of this online site is to allow people with different positions, on the current news, to discuss them. I personally believe that the community is fortunate to have a place to go to express these differences. Sorry that some of you are impatient about it and want to discourage debate.

    As far as the statue goes, I don’t really recall the community being asked if they want it or not, nor being asked where it should be located. I also believe that this discussion about the pros and cons of John A. is healthy one – it shows that we are thinking about what our community wants and what image we want to portray – as well as, showing that our history matters and how important(or not) John A, really is to us. It is a healthy discussion – one that should have taken place prior to the statue. Like it or not, John A. is not everyones cup of tea and they have a right to say so.

    I find the process around this statue being similar to what has taken place around the “Cenotaph Christmas Tree Relocation” – a few people made the decision, without any chance for the community to have input. Are those people who disagree with the Shire Hall location going to be called names for having a different opinion? I hope not.

    What both the statue and the Christmas Tree decision reflects is the lack of communication between the community and with those who think they own it and believe they alone have the right to make decisions for us. How paternalistic, how old fashion! From the amount of debate on this site, I find it encouraging to see that a lot of people have an opinion on what takes place here and want to have a say in it. I hope the debate continues!

  16. Angela says:

    A group of local residents proposed the statue and worked hard to make it a reality. No one complained loudly about it at the time. Now the protesters have come out of the woodwork – a little late in the game. It is the typical “aginner” attitude. Let others do something in good faith which is intended as an asset to the community and sure enough, afterward, the “aginners” voice lots of criticism, having done nothing themselves but complain. The indigenous people are not complaining about the statue, interestingly enough. It should be returned to Main Street with no explanatory companion text. The “aginners” should form a group to erect another statue in tribute to the wronged. But then that would require a great deal more time and effort that complaining.

  17. Mark says:

    Statue will never be meaningless to many, with a side note or not. He is our Father of Confederation.

  18. Dennis Fox says:

    There really isn’t a problem here – just provide a balanced explanation of John A’s history along with the statue – without that, the statue will be meaningless.

  19. Henri Garand says:

    The “Holding Court” statue commemorates John A. Macdonald’s time in Picton, when he was a young man not yet responsible for actions for which he is now condemned. What is wrong with acknowledging his residential connection to Picton? It’s not a claim every small Canadian town can make.
    Though not excusing Macdonald’s treatment of indigenous people, I think it is instructive to consider how the U.S. has handled controversial statues. Many public statues commemorating Confederate heroes and even ordinary soldiers have been removed, but there are no plans to tear down the Jefferson Memorial or the Washington Monument in D.C despite the slave-owning history of those founding fathers. Perhaps the distinction is that the Confederates are known only for their Civil War service in an indefensible cause. Jefferson and Washington are honored for creating a new country.

  20. olmnonthemtn says:

    The information provided by Dr. Sinclair in respect to MacDonald’s defects should be considered by Canadians when creating a balanced understanding of his legacy. He was guilty of decisions or inactions that were responsible for much pain then and now for aboriginal peoples. He was distracted by the need to create a country and a uniting railway before the Americans exercised their manifest destiny as well as create a stable law based frontier compared to the American “wild west” which was marked by war against Native Americans. He had to do so while dealing with his political opposition

    Richard Gwyn a MacDonald biographer provides insights into some of MacDonald’s values and actions which also need to be considered when evaluating his legacy:

    “The truth is, though, that for his time, Macdonald was unusually liberal-minded. Among his lifelong friends were Indians and Métis. He wasn’t in the least afraid to tell the truth about relations between native people and whites, as in: “We must remember they are the original owners of the soil of which they have been dispossessed by the covetousness or ambition of our ancestors.”

    His actual policy for getting food to the Indians — one his critics always avoid citing — was: “We cannot as Christians, and as men with hearts in our bosoms, allow the vagabond Indian to die before us . . . We must prevent them from starving, in consequence of the extinction of the buffalo and there not yet (having) betaken themselves to raising crops.” Circumstances made that task extremely difficult. Amid a depression, few Canadians were prepared to be generous. The opposition Liberals seized the opportunity and repeatedly charged that by feeding native people, Macdonald was turning them into permanent dependents of government

    Most remarkably, he got MPs to agree to the most imaginative reform of his time: any Indian could gain the vote while retaining all his privileges, such as freedom from taxes. Unhappily, Laurier cancelled this reform, with the measure not restored until John Diefenbaker did so in 1960, which was far too late to make any difference. Macdonald was the first national democratic leader in the world to try to extend the vote to women, introducing such legislation in the Commons in 1885. He got nowhere, but he described the future exactly, warning MPs it was “certain” that the female would “completely establish her equality as a human being and as a member of society with man.” That’s a description of the gender equality we’ve at last achieved, more or less.”

    He was involved in a patronage scandal in which his party received monetary favours a practice which continued after him and given current improprieties seems to be an ongoing concern. And yes he was a drunk but one that was rehabilitated.

  21. Dennis Fox says:

    I think we are getting a little side-tracked by some of these comments – John A. was the first PM who was involved in forming our confederation, and should be recognized for his good work. The country and the people were here long before JAM was ever born. As for the reference to the Jesuits killed, we need to remember it was they who were the invaders and the representatives of the French government – trying to control and conquer. But again, that was about 200 years before John A. – and the aboriginal people were abused during that time and well after. Like it or not, John A. was a racist and a bigot – typical of his time – our history books clearly show this. At no time in any history do people not know when they are being cruel to the people they conquered and controlled.

    With the statue of John A. there has to be a factual account of the man – otherwise the statue becomes nothing more than a symbol of white supremacy, an embarrassment and a joke.

  22. Mark says:

    Sir John A is going back up as he should. This is wasting Councils time. He still remains the Country’s founder. The treatment of indigenous peoples in the States was far worse and that could have been the story here if not for the brave work to form our own Country.

  23. Jason Wryghte says:

    Sir John A. MacDonald is not a foundational hero of our country because of bad things that happened under his watch. Neither is he a hero because of his rather public alcoholism. He was certainly as imperfect as anyone in the history of mankind. He remains a foundational hero of our country because he united the original provinces and brought in a few more. In doing so he found compromise with the French, guaranteeing their cultural survival as equal partners in Confederation. He had a vision for a coast-to-coast nation that would thwart American expansionism, and made sure the railway got built to tie us all together. He is admired because without his grand vision for Canada, there would not be a Canada at all.

  24. Mike Rodgers says:

    Well put Dave H. You have to do little research to see what the indigenous did to there own let alone with whites. From raiding other tribes to capture land, to also how the captured were selected to become their slaves. Not nice a all, but that was then this now. If you erase history and its facts you have no future. Someone wrote that once.

  25. Dave H says:

    A statue of an indigenous person—how about one of the Iriquois that killed the Jesuit missionaries—fair is fair if you want to dwell on the misggivings of our fore-fathers.

  26. kb says:

    Well I’m afraid he was just that – King Trump, and worse. Why not replace it with an indigenous sculpture? Times have changed. History is just that – history. Let’s move on by seeing it for what it is, and then put Sir John A. to rest somewhere other than a public space. Respectfully speaking, it’s unfortunate that he bears most of the discord taking action and following advice directed by his superiors and the crown. This was the norm when settling new colonies just about anywhere in the world, by any conquerer. Ask one question: will erecting it in public help or hinder the relationships with indigenous culture? The answer is obvious. Sir John A. needs to go.

  27. Suzanne says:

    As Sinclair asked, do we know what our indigenous community members think about the reinstallation? If not, shouldn’t we ask?

  28. Michelle says:

    Without Sir John, we could be ruled by King Trump!

  29. Susan says:

    Rhetoric aside, how can Sir John A be disputed as a founder of the Country. Like or dislike can never change the Father of Confederation.

  30. Dennis Fox says:

    Sir John A. was Canada’s first PM and he should be noted as such. HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean we do it with a blind eye or without telling the other side of his/our history. Sir John certainly knew that treating both aboriginal and Chinese people as less than human was wrong. Nowhere in our history does it say he didn’t know this – he acted like all white males did at that time – superior to all and to H@## with the “other people.”

    I believe if his statue is going to appear anywhere, then an outline of his history as our PM – both positive and negative should accompany the statue. To only glorify him would be wrong and very inaccurate.

  31. Richard says:

    Return it to its right spot on the Main Street of Picton. Removing it will not remove past history but it’s presence will open up conversations about the wrongful treatment indigenous people.

  32. Phillip A. Boyd says:

    You can not change history as many would like too. It was a time not like we live in now so we can not judge people as we would now.
    We learn from history and evolve but he studied law here and lived hear please let uscharish that fact.
    We should be sad that the government at the time tore down his law office at the top of the town hill.

    I have said my peace.

  33. Theresa says:

    Personally, I don’t care what happens to the statue of JAM. I do care about him being referred to as one of the “founders of this country”. The “country”, with a intricate system of government, was here long before JAM arrived.

  34. Fred says:

    Sir John A needs to return. We all make mistakes particularly in a time that was accepting. Good deeds can be honoured as well as errors recognized. None of us are perfect, but none of us built a Country either.

  35. Angus says:

    If we are going to eliminate any recognition of one of the founders of this country then surely we should look at who we celebrate in giving his name to Picton. Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Picton was condemned for his cruel treatment of the inhabitants of Trinidad and was convicted (although this was later reversed) of cruelty against his mulatto mistress. What should we change our town’s name to?

  36. Angela says:

    The statue should go back. It adds to our streetscape for it is a beautiful piece of work. It is a little late to ask for a deferment in re-installing it.

  37. Ray Hobson says:

    “Sir John A” must be viewed within context. If we wish to revisit the past with today’s values everything is suspect.

    I recommend an asterisk whereby PEC mounts a supplemental notice that informs viewers to read the “rest of the story”. We can note that there is ongoing controversey about some of Sir John’s activities.

    IMHO: Statue should definitely be re-mounted.

  38. Todd says:

    Sir John A. absolutely needs to be put back in a prominent place in Picton. Like everybody, he was far perfect, but this trend of hiding from our past and judging historical figures by today’s standards is a terrible trend. We can (and should) debate his legacy and learn from his imperfections. Canada also is not perfect, but it’s one of the best places on Earth to live. It exists today because of this man. And for that, he deserves respect of a thankful nation.

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