Charlottetown council votes to remove controversial statue of Sir John A. Macdonald

Two Indigenous dancers perform around the 215 pairs of children's shoes placed next to a Sir John A. Macdonald statue in Charlottetown on Monday, May 31, 2021, during a ceremony for the remains of 215 children found at the Kamloops Indian Residential School. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Morris

Charlottetown city council has voted to permanently remove a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald from a downtown intersection as a response to recent revelations about Canada’s residential school system.

The decision late Monday followed a vigil earlier in the day where demonstrators placed 215 pairs of shoes next to the statue of Macdonald, whose government introduced the residential school system in 1883.

The shoes were in memory of the 215 children whose remains were recently discovered at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.

Charlottetown council had been planning to improve signage and add an Indigenous figure to the Macdonald statue but decided to remove it entirely as a result of the public outcry over the Kamloops discovery. Mayor Phillip Brown said he has been flooded with emails.

“I’ve received emails like I’ve never received from residents before,” he told the council meeting. “They just said, ‘This has really struck a chord with me. Please do something now.’ ”

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Read more: ‘Not an isolated incident’: Search for answers continues at a N.S. residential school site

Coun. Greg Rivard, who pushed to have the statue removed, said the city had an opportunity to send a strong message to the province and the rest of the country.

“This is my history of Sir John A. right now: When I walk by that statue, as I did today, it reminds me of 215 children who were found last week,” Rivard said. “That’s what it means to me right now.”

About 80 people attended the Monday morning vigil at the corner of Queen Street and Victoria Road where the statue is located.

“We have laid out 215 pairs of shoes as a visual reminder of those little lives that were lost,” organizer Lynn Bradley told the crowd. “Two hundred and fifteen pairs of shoes, 215 hearts that no longer beat, 215 families that deserve answers, 215 leaders that will never be, 215 stories that will never be told.”

Someone has splashed red paint on the hands of the statue, and Bradley told the crowd that the red paint represents the blood of innocent children.

The statue has been vandalized numerous times in the past year, and Charlottetown city council had decided recently to add an Indigenous figure on or near the bench where the figure of Macdonald is seated.

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Click to play video: 'Kamloops Discovery affecting First Nations around the country' Kamloops Discovery affecting First Nations around the country
Kamloops Discovery affecting First Nations around the country – May 31, 2021

Bradley encouraged the crowd to use their voices to speak for the children.

“Let’s not leave here with anger,” she said. “Let’s leave with love and a promise that we will do our best to ensure this kind of horrendous act will never happen to another child in any situation. Nor will it ever be forgotten.”

Charlottetown councillor Alanna Jankov said the decision to remove the statue doesn’t erase history. “We’re not getting rid of history, we’re getting rid of a statue,” she said.

The statue will be placed in storage, and council will have to make a decision later on what to do with it.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 31, 2021.

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