McGill University quietly removed the statue of founder James McGill from its downtown Montreal campus late Friday afternoon.
In an email to the McGill community, principal and vice-chancellor Suzanne Fortier cited necessary repair work for the statue’s removal, following an incident of vandalism over the weekend.
“Given that the recent incident exacerbated existing damage to the sculpture, it has been removed for repair and restoration,” Fortier wrote.
The statue had been an issue of growing contention on campus with students calling for its removal during a protest last summer, due to McGill’s legacy as an owner of Black and Indigenous slaves.
At the time, some students told Global News the sculpture was a hurtful reminder.
“It hurts,” said Emma S., an Indigenous biochemistry student. “James McGill’s legacy, his wealth, was built on Black and Indigenous people and McGill University refuses to acknowledge that is a continuation of this legacy.”
In her email, Fortier acknowledged the founder’s complicated history.
“We know that James McGill’s personal history included different dimensions, some positive, others not so,” she said.
“It includes the bequest that made the University’s establishment possible. It also includes his ownership of enslaved persons.”
She also said the university had since taken steps to address the issue and publicly recognize those aspects of McGill’s life.
She pointed to a recently amended biography of James McGill on the university’s website and a new plaque installed next to the sculpture, as examples of the university’s efforts to provide more context.
While Fortier, recognized that people have a right to express their opinion, she lamented that it resulted in damage to university property.
The sculpture’s fate, once repaired, has yet to be decided.
“As part of its Action Plan to Address Anti-Black Racism, the University is committed to exploring its historic record. This investigation will inform our decision about whether to keep the sculpture at its current site or relocate it,” Fortier said.
“If it is determined that the sculpture would be better located elsewhere than on lower campus, the University will act accordingly.”