As a small crowd of supporters and opponents looked on, City of Victoria crews used a truck and crane to remove a statue of Canada’s first prime minster from in front of city hall on Saturday morning.
Some who had gathered to watch let out a cheer as the truck pulled away, while another voice from the crowd could be heard yelling “you people are pathetic.”
WATCH: Sir John A. Macdonald statue removed from Victoria City Hall
Victoria city council approved the move earlier this week, saying it had been made in consultation with the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations over John A. Macdonald’s complicated legacy.
“So John A. Macdonald, in this case, was a great man. We live in one of the greatest countries in the world, without question.” said Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps on Saturday.
“And he was also the architect of the Indian Residential School system. So we need to find a way to both commemorate history and reconcile with history.”
WATCH: John A. Macdonald statue coming down in Victoria
The decision has been controversial to say the least.
Some supporters of the removal say Macdonald’s public image has been allowed to stand unchallenged, and that his statue outside of a government building sends a disrespectful message to First Nations residents.
Opponents say the removal was done without enough public consultation, and that the city’s action amounts to erasing history.
Helps said the move does anything but.
“This is not about erasing history at all. We’re talking about history. The conversation this week has been about history, it’s actually amplifying history,” she said.
“We’re having a conversation on the streets of Victoria and across the country about history of Canada.
“They’re difficult conversations.”
WATCH: Victoria mayor on removal of John A. MacDonald statue
For the time being, the statue will be stored securely while the city figures out what to do with it.
A plaque will be installed in the interim that explains the city’s decision, pointing to the challenge of grappling with “Macdonald’s complex history as both the first prime minister of Canada and a leader of violence against Indigenous Peoples.”
John Dann, the sculptor who created the statue in 1981, says he was surprised that the decision was made to remove it so quickly.
“It’s a trend, isn’t it, that sculptures are now offensive? It never occurred to me that this would happen to John A. Macdonald, who is Canada’s first prime minister. It’s quite a target,” he said.
“If we’re going to find that sculpture offensive, then we have to find every statue of every prime minister offensive because the residential schools lasted for over 100 years.”
Dann said that rather than censoring art by taking it away, it should be retained and used as a point of dialogue.
He said he would like to hear why people are opposed to it, and let people on both sides voice their opinions.
“It’s a valid criticism, but let’s have the discussion. I think if it’s offensive to someone, their views ought to be expressed.”
Helps said that’s exactly what she’s hoping for.
She said she wants to start a series of public feedback sessions called the Victoria Reconciliation Dialogues that would allow people to weigh in on the best way to use the statue to recognize history, while giving it appropriate context.
“Now this creates a space for a wider conversation with the community here in Victoria about what is reconciliation,” she said.
“How do we reconcile this fantastic city we live in, which also is on the homelands of the Songhees and Esquimalt?”
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