Halifax Regional Council moved into the future on Tuesday by accepting the dark parts of the municipality’s past.
Council voted to accept the recommendations of a task force on how it should commemorate its founder Edward Cornwallis.
The report, a culmination of more than a year of public consultations, recommended that the city sever its ties with Cornwallis, who is known to have put a bounty on Mi’kmaq scalps in 1749 while serving as the governor of Nova Scotia.
Suggestions in the document included renaming streets and parks named after the controversial colonizer, supporting youth activities that recognize Indigenous heritage, and distributing copies of the report in schools and libraries throughout the region.
One of the other recommendations is that the statue of Edward Cornwallis “not be returned, under any circumstances, to a position of public commemoration.”
In 2018 the council voted to remove the statue from Cornwallis Park in downtown Halifax. It has remained in storage ever since.
Instead, the report recommends that the statue be placed in context in a new museum — to be funded by the city — that also displays Mi’kmaw history in Nova Scotia.
But the report received a small change before it was passed by council.
Coun. Lindell Smith asked that before Cornwallis Street be renamed that the community be consulted on what name they would prefer.
The task force had recommended that the street be renamed New Horizons Street after the New Horizons Church, an institution that itself had once borne the name of Edward Cornwallis.
Smith urged council to allow the community in the area, which has previously voiced support to name the street in honour of Rocky Jones, to be consulted on the topic.
That amendment was unanimously accepted by council.
However, not every moment of the discussion on Tuesday was as universally positive.
Coun. Steve Adams said that the recommendations in the report were a “predictable” outcome and that he would not support the issue.
Deputy Mayor Blackburn provided what other councillors described as the “mic-drop” moment of the conversation, in response to those who ask where their British-heritage will be commemorated.
“To those folks, I would say, when you look at the provincial Tartan and see the gold that represents the Nova Scotia or Royal Charter, the red that represents the lion from the provincial crest, your British culture is being recognized; every day at noon when you hear that gun your British culture is being recognized; with every heritage building that you walk past that was designed by a Victorian architect, your British culture is being recognized; every time you hear fiddle music wafting out of the Lower Deck on a Saturday afternoon, your British culture is being recognized; if you’ve taken a stroll in the public gardens, your British culture is being recognized and every time you look up Duke Street and see Citadel Hill hovering on the horizon, your British culture is being recognized,” she said.
“So don’t tell me that British history is not being recognized in this city. You are immersed in it with every breath you take.”
Other councillors agreed, saying that this is about acknowledging what has happened in the past.
“We are on the right side of history, acknowledging the real history of this place and willing to make these changes,” said Coun. Waye Mason.
It was a sentiment echoed by Coun. Sam Austin and Coun. Tony Mancini.
“It’s not about taking anything away from anybody, it’s about righting the wrongs, about what we do not share and what we do not celebrate,” said Coun. Austin.
Coun. Matt Whitman, who on social media has voiced opposition to the removal of the statue, did not offer any comments despite the lengthy discussion.
Coun. Steve Streatch, who has previously credited former poet laureate Rebecca Thomas’ plea to council for changing his mind on Cornwallis, says he is in favour of the report’s recommendations.
The staff recommendation was broken down into three parts: accepting the report from the task force, approving responses prepared by HRM staff to the recommendations and directing the CAO to return to council annually to report on progress addressing the recommendations.
The first part of the motion passed with Coun. Adams and Coun. Whitman voting against.
The second part of the recommendation passed with Coun. David Hendsbee, Coun. Adams and Coun. Whitman voting against.
Only Coun. Whitman voted against the third part of the motion.
Mayor Mike Savage called the decision a “seminal moment in the history of K’jipuktuk” using the Mi’kmaq name for the city, meaning Great Harbour.
“(Our job) is to set a new tone and lead on issues like this,” said Savage.