Ontario has waded into the debate over the legacy of John A. Macdonald with an offer to display a statue of Canada’s first prime minister that was taken down over the weekend in Victoria.
But Victoria’s mayor quickly rejected the offer.
The city removed the statue following discussions with two local First Nations, the Songhees and Esquimalt, which argued the statue has become a painful reminder of colonialism, largely because of Macdonald’s role in the residential school system. The decision renewed debate over historic names and monuments. With the passage of time, many are now seen in a different light.
Ontario Progressive Conservative House Leader Todd Smith wrote Victoria on Friday offering to “take ownership of the statue” and to co-ordinate transporting the bronze monument.
“As a Father of Confederation and our first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald holds a significant place in the hearts of many Canadians and should be honoured accordingly,” Mr. Smith wrote.
Ontario Tourism Minister Sylvia Jones said on Twitter the province was “willing and able” to give the statue a new home.
“Sir John A. Macdonald plays a central role in our national story,” Ms. Jones said Monday in the legislature. “He did more to found our nation than any other Father of Confederation.”
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said the statue was a gift to the city and that discussions are currently under way to determine how to display it in the future. It will be stored in the meantime.
“The city has no intention of getting rid of the statue,” Ms. Helps said in response to the Ontario government. “We will have a continued dialogue with the nations and the community as to the best place, way and context to place the statue that balances commemoration with reconciliation."
She was not available for an interview on Monday.
Advocates of removing the John A. Macdonald statue and his name from public buildings cite his role in the residential school system and the denigrating language he used when speaking of Indigenous people, including referring to them as “savages.”
Supporters argue that his contributions, including his vision for a transcontinental railway, should be commemorated.
In an open letter to Mayor Helps, John Dann – who was commissioned to create the statue in the 1980s – questioned whether removing it was the best way to promote a discussion about colonial violence.
“It is important to recognize those strengths and flaws in Macdonald and those of his time, yet to be aware of them also in ourselves,” Mr. Dann wrote.
Some have called for placing the statue in a different location, such as a museum, and providing historical context.
Victoria officials placed a plaque at city hall noting the statue’s removal and discussions for its permanent placement. The plaque was vandalized over the weekend, but minor damage has been repaired, Ms. Helps said.