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Sir John Holding Court before council on Monday

Prince Edward County is again joining cities across the nation to discuss the public installation of Sir John A Macdonald, after the Tk’emlúpsem te Secwépemc First Nation in British Columbia announced last week it had discovered the remains of 215 children in unmarked graves at a former Kamloops Indian Residential School.

Canada’s first prime minister, once a resident of Prince Edward County, is linked to the residential school system due to his policies, including the withholding of food and forced from Indigenous land. Some 6,000 Indigenous children are believed to have died in the residential school system. Macdonald’s statues have been repeatedly vandalized, and removed, in some cities, as citizens  protest and support the legacy of a man who is credited with both building the nation, and of mistreatment of Indigenous peoples.

The bronze portrait ‘Holding Court’ now outside of the Picton Library depicts a 19-year-old Macdonald winning his first court case in Picton. It was commissioned by The Macdonald Group and created by Canadian artist Ruth Abernethy to mark the 200th anniversary of Macdonald’s birth, and unveiled in 2015.

Mayor Steve Ferguson has called a special council meeting for Monday, June 7 at 7 p.m. to discuss the Macdonald installation again.

“The national conversation sparked by the discovery of remains of 215 Indigenous children at a residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia, is reason to pause and reflect on the “Holding Court” statue,” said Ferguson. “A dialogue about the statue is necessary as it relates to public safety and the contractual obligations of the municipality.”

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the meeting will be held electronically via Zoom. The public can follow the meeting on the County’s YouTube channel and participate in the meeting electronically. Members of the public who wish to provide comments must contact by noon on Monday, June 7 to register. Registered speakers will have three minutes to share their remarks with council.

Following extensive public consultation, council voted 12-2 (councillors Margetson and MacNaughton opposed) in November 2020 to leave the statue on Picton Main Street and explore additional messaging to encourage public discussion and education.

The Macdonald Group and artist Abernathy were to be consulted as to next steps to create something to augment and contextualize the sculpture, Ferguson said in November, “and whatever form that takes will involve consultation to get it right.”


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  1. Dennis Fox says:

    I want to thank our Council for the tough decision they made to remove the SJAM statue from Picton’s Main St. I watched the 4 hour meeting(which in itself is a format needing to change) and the vast majority of those making a deputation were wanting the statue removed. Not that I counted, but I would guess there had to be 30-40 speakers – each given 3 minutes to speak. What also impressed me were the number of people watching online – often numbering well over 200! So the community was interested in this issue and anxious to see what Council would do.

    What I can say, is that Council made the right decision to defuse the tension that was mounting around a piece of metal that became a symbol of racism within our community. It was a hard decision for them – but I do congratulate them for it. Picton and Canada are better off for it.

  2. Susan says:

    Vandalism carries the day. Good lesson for our youth,

  3. Fred says:

    I feel I was tricked by the Mayors Special Council meeting tonight. The agenda stated discussion in regards to public safety and contractual obligations to the Sir John A MacDonald sculpture. There was no indication that a vote for removal would take place. This trickery disinfranchised so many residents. How can a vote last November be overturned without public awareness?

  4. Mark says:

    Council has already determined that Sir John is to remain.

  5. Dennis Fox says:

    Residential schools did exist prior to Confederation and came under the control of mainly the church and supported by the government of Upper Canada. In 1867 when JAM became PM, the British North American Act was passed directing the government of Canada to “educate and assimilate” aboriginal people into society. MacDonald willingly interpreted this to mean to place them on reserves and to slowly starve them to death, or die of small pox. In 1876 the Indian Act was passed- an act that MacDonald was largely responsible for – which further placed the aboriginal people of Canada into the most demeaning squalor, where children were removed from their homes and placed in so called better places for them – MacDonald’s version of residential schools! MacDonald in every way was an entitled British subject who followed the British thinking of the day – “Mother England can do no wrong!” Now in 2021, we know full well just how cruel Mother England was to all of her subjects – from the far east to Canada – the sun never set on England’s cruelty. To say MacDonald didn’t invent residential school is an excuse to allow their memory to live on and to excuse JAM’s bigotry. As our first PM, he had the chance to get rid of residential schools – and didn’t! The colonization of Canada is over – our native people fought for this country in both the great wars – show them the respect they deserve – remove the statue!

    If the MacDonald group are going to get upset over the removal of the statue, then return it to them. If some claim it is a piece of art, then place it in an art gallery – it has no place on Picton’s main street!

  6. Jason says:

    I think people want to blame, want to pin responsibility on someone. I think Canada is the greatest country in the world. I think our founding fathers did an amazing job. The health care and the school systems are second to none. The people responsible for many of the best things that make Canada amazing were flawed, as we all are. Although, what they created was greater than their mistakes. All of us sitting here today are judging leaders from over 130 years ago with todays knowledge and standards. Do we all think that in 130 years from now people we idolise won’t become tainted due to future knowledge? As many comments state we all learn from our successes and failures. Our leaders are no different. Acknowledge the successes with the failures but don’t view one side. Our past leaders should be celebrated for creating one of the best countries in the world. To eliminate their successes is to lower the level of greatness of this country. There are many faults and horrific incidents in Canada’s history. We should recognise and learn from them but we also need some patriotism for this great country.

  7. Henri Garand says:

    Before the latest news out of B.C. the tragedy of missing children was already part of the sad residential school legacy, though the discovery of mass, unidentified graves has inflamed passions over the puzzling indifference and neglect of the nominal Christians who ran the schools. Their actions are quite separate from Macdonald’s. It’s worth remembering that residential schools existed prior to Macdonald’s supporting and disseminating them and that attendance at these schools during his lifetime was voluntary.

    Why, then, is Macdonald consistently held accountable? My own view is that the charge is intrinsic to the activist project to re-imagine Canadian history: to change it from a story of nation building, multicultural immigration, and wide prosperity to one principally about colonization, racism, and genocide. Demonizing Macdonald, the only founding father most Canadians recall, is essential to the credibility of the new narrative.

    Of course, none of this is relevant to a piece of sidewalk art depicting Macdonald’s early life in the County. Picton’s little statue is just caught up in the reform agenda.

    Once more, nonetheless, council faces a difficult situation and may be tempted to deal with the problem by removing the statue. But the decision made last fall is still sound. The Macdonald statue provides an opportunity for historical nuance. Let’s give the consultative committee (which council was supposed to establish) time to propose new signage or additional statuary.

  8. SS says:

    My point earlier was that the statue is a visible trauma generator to those who have been wronged. So removing it would at the very least, eliminate that.

  9. angela says:

    Leave the statue where it stands and erect a memorial to the 215 children whose graves were just discovered adjacent to it. Tell both sides of the story and move on. Such hatred of a man who died a century ago is pointless. He cannot read the placards, see the protesters or feel the anger. He cannot change what happened or apologize for his part in it.

  10. kevin says:

    Why is the RC still so powerful and why don’t they have to follow the laws? Their lack of transparency means their hiding something. I suspect there’s going to be more similar discoveries of mass gravesites. Sorry but now that we know what we know, the statute needs to go – should have never been erected during such a controversial time as truth and reconciliation. Let’s just get on with healing.

  11. Susan says:

    Do you really think taking down Sir John A changes anything? Might make you feel better for a minute but it does nothing. Churhes involvement need to lead this,

  12. Gary says:

    Protesters are the same folks that protest everything. Why are there not protests at the Catholic Church?

  13. Susan Ferrill says:

    Put the statue in a museum of Canada’s History with the true story.

  14. olmnonthemtn says:

    Kole a good suggestion re: JAM giving witness to a young indigenous child in the docket perhaps a representation of Chanie Wenjack whose life and tragic end was memorialized by Gord Downie’s songs/imagery in “The Secret Path” could be placed there. This is a Heritage Minute which witnesses Chanie’s ordeal

  15. SS says:

    Statues of people, period, are generally erected by people who wish to honour the subject person or persons.

    Since humans are fundamentally flawed, it seems logical that if enough time passes after a statue is erected, new information will come to light that will tarnish it.

    Statues that are tarnished should be removed from public view, and sold to whoever wants to buy them if they feel they are of value.

    There is no doubt that SJA’s statue is tarnished. My 0.02 worth — it should be removed and sold at public auction. If no bids, it should be recycled or destroyed.

  16. JCM says:

    I am saddened to hear of the discovery of 215 children discover in unmarked. I think there should be a inquiry into other residential schools through out Canada to look for more unmarked graves.
    Let’s put the blame where is should go – on the Catholic Church. The church was to have kept these children, and the others in their care, safe and given the basics of life. Unfortunately this was not the case. Catholic homes for unwed mothers also came under scrutiny when numerous graves of young girls and their babies were found at the homes.
    I agree with Richard. Society in the mid 1800s thought it was charitable to help young children to have a better life. Many thousands of young boys and girls know as the Home Children were sent from the UK to Canada for a better life and over 2000 died from abuse and being treated like slaves.

  17. JennyD says:

    I suppose we could balance it out as Kole suggested, and also include christian religion in the backdrop.
    A few days ago the archbishop in Ottawa stated he had no knowledge of any residential school atrocities and it’s the first time he heard of any of it! Really?
    One would think that by now, post Truth & Reconciliation that the church would ensure the education of it’s leaders, members and parishes.

    There has been no public apology from several of the institutions so they must be above the law. This lack of response from the church as the head organization who accepted the invitation to carry out the monarch and government’s agenda, is exactly what is preventing many from moving forward.

    How can we forgive, when those responsible haven’t asked to be forgiven? Trust me, I would like to forgive and move on, but these organizations simply won’t let me because they refuse to own their actions.

    And, public policy at that time did not include, abuse, assault or murder. Let’s not blend it into societal acceptance of “educating” the indians. The examples provided couldn’t be less appropriate.

    I truly wish there was a mandatory course in our school curriculum to provide accurate and truthful teachings about how this country was settled. Then everyone may have better insights.

  18. Dennis Fox says:

    John A. represents all that was wrong back then. He was elected as our PM after the American civil war – people knew very well that discrimination and slavery were wrong – both in Europe and in North America. It was common practice for the Brits. Dutch, Portuguese, Spaniards, Germans (have I left anyone out?) to attack, colonize and enslave those they conquered. To now say they didn’t know it was wrong or that they were only trying to help those they enslaved by removing their children from their parents is nothing more than a modern day excuse.

    Canada is a great country, but we are now facing a national day of reckoning – How we deal with it will expose what kind of people and country we are now, and what we will become in the future. There is no hiding from this issue it has been with us for over 100 years and have ignored it – so let’s do it right and solve the problem.

    BTW – has our municipality hired a security firm to protect the statue? Don’t we have a good police force capable of maintaining the law and why do we as taxpayers have to pay for two policing forces? Does our council really believe that PEC is full of dangerous anarchists ready to topple John A.? If Charlottetown PEI can deal with this issue quickly and effectively – why can’t we?

  19. These are reasonable comments. Please go to and click on the article by Greg Piasetski, a lawyer and status Metis listed under Controversy. If you also like to know Macdonald’s relationship with Indigenous Canadians, go to Education and read the first article and others if you have time.

  20. Gary says:

    Public Safety! Like illegal gatherings,

  21. Susan says:

    Council already decided this issue. How can it land back for further discussion? If as presented about public safety then authorities should enforce the gathering laws in a pandemic that are not permitted.

  22. Michelle says:

    Makes one wonder why the cancel culture protests are not being staged at the Catholic Church.

  23. Richardl says:

    Before taking down Sir John, take time to look at society in those days. The concept of educating the indigenous population, bringing them into what Europeans saw as industrialized civil society would have been seen as progressive back then. It was certainly on a par with what wax happening in Europe.

    Now the horrendous implementation is a disgrace but that is surely down to those running the schools, they need to be the ones apologizing and making amends.

  24. olmnonthemtn says:

    Couldn’t agree with you more Don, Council needs to follow its own recommendations in terms of providing a context vis a vis the statue and the residential schools and the reconciliation required. Justice/Senator Sinclair Chair of the TRC and the Chief of Tyendinaga agreed such statues should remain but should be considered in the light of how we need to address the rational & effects of policy of the time and how WE all can finds ways to heal and grow.

  25. Mike Rodgers says:

    Well said Don
    Something needs to be done about the most resent tragedy. Do not erase evidence of the past but build on it so future generations may learn and remember from these events. JAM needs to stay. If he goes so must the church and any reference to the monarchs that also were involved these actions for generations.

  26. angela says:

    There were many opportunities for input on the statue before it was installed. There were regular progress reports and no one came forward to offer a single objection. When the statue was unveiled on Canada Day several years ago there was a huge turn-out for the event. It was considered a great day. Now, what do we do on Canada Day? Do we pretend that Sir John was never our first prime minister? As long as we are rewriting history, why not? He did not single-handedly murder 215 children. It seems the churches and other politicians are getting a free pass here. Council made a decision and it should stand. Adjacent to this controversial statue there should also be a memorial for the 215 children who died. As Shakespeare said, the evil that men do lives on but the good is oft interred with their bones. We need to remember the good as well.

  27. Don says:

    Saying that Sir JAM is responsible for the terrible deaths of 215 children in Kamloops is like saying that Henry Ford is responsible for all the deaths and injuries that have occurred in automobile accidents. MacDonald’s support for the creation of these schools can be questioned but he did not run the schools just as Henry Ford did not drive the cars that killed people. If we remove all public reference to Sir JAM, should we also get rid of the churches that ran the schools and were directly responsible for this tragedy? Council has made a decision to keep the statue in front of the library but has failed to follow up on its commitment to put more balanced educational signage adjacent to it. They need to keep the facts in focus as they deal with this sensitive issue.

  28. Bruce Nicholson says:

    Is Council going to address the role of the Catholic Church in running these schools at this meeting ?

  29. angela says:

    Once a final decision has been made about Sir John’s statue then presumably we move on to the issue of a town named for a man of bad character who kept slaves. Don’t order any new address labels for the Town of Picton may be about to receive a brand new name.

  30. kb says:

    These comments clearly demonstrate there is much more the government needs to do to educate society about the genocide and atrocities that took place, along with the current living standards. It’s murder by government and catholic church of which neither are being held accountable. Please don’t screen my comments out – I have a voice too. You should not allow others to minimalize the impact of underlying issues.

  31. kb says:

    The ignorance of many, the lack of government integrity, the false teachings in our history books over the past 100+ years, the number of victims of colonialism by state and church provides every reason to bring this back. Please don’t insult the indigenous culture or victims by comparing it to your parking issues and bylaw concerns. You wouldn’t have those worries if the government hadn’t taken the land you are so concerned about parking on.

  32. JennyD says:

    Here we go again!!!! The fact that this is being revisited yet again contains the answer. It never should have been created or erected. At a tumultuous time in the country where it generated so much conflict in communities, PEC pushed ahead with their plans, oblivious to the impact. Citizens should have been canvassed about it first, and the proper procedures followed. Sorry but John needs to go – can somebody please show him the door.

  33. Kole says:

    It’s simple really. All we need to do is add a statue of a little indigenous girl to the chair. That way peoples precious JAM statue can stay and we can still be reminded who was on trial and sentenced to be systematically erased.

  34. Gary says:

    215 children discovered buried at a residential school in Kamloops….that is reason enough for the council to revisit this

  35. Chuck says:

    Not certain either how this can come back before Council. Can Lake on the Mountain paarking fiasco comeback now?

  36. Fred says:

    How can this procedurally be brought back before Council in 6 months after a decision was made?

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