Amid recent calls for the Sir John A. Macdonald statue at Gore Park in downtown Hamilton to be removed, the long-standing figure was toppled by demonstrators Saturday afternoon.
It’s unclear who specifically brought down the statue, but the move came hours after a unity rally at city hall in support of Hamilton’s Indigenous community where those in attendance protested a 12-3 vote by Hamilton city council on July 9 to keep the statue in place.
“The purpose of a statue is to assert, promote and celebrate cultural values. By keeping this statue in a public space, it acts as a reminder of the values that lead to the forcible removal of Indigenous children and the destruction of families. It invokes great pain and forces community members to relive the trauma for which Sir John A. MacDonald is partially responsible.”
Organizers said if the City of Hamilton were to remove the statue, it would show the Indigenous community was “being listened to.”
“It is time to take meaningful action. Removal also demonstrates that, while our history cannot be changed, we as a community now promote different values,” the letter said.
“The Indigenous community will not be silenced or ignored. Indigenous people must be the voice that identifies our triggers. Indigenous people must be the voice that identifies our trauma and our continued trauma. When Indigenous solidarity and unity is challenged, we will respond with acts of peace and unity that shows this country our solidarity is to never be questioned.
“When urban Indigenous solidarity and unity is challenged, we will respond with acts of peace and unity and call in all our relatives from near and far because the challenge involves them as well.”
A Hamilton police statement said officers were in the area to monitoir the demonstration “due to the size of the crowd.” After 3 p.m., officers taped off the area and said an investigation was underway.
Back in July, councillors Nrinder Nann, Maureen Wilson and Brad Clark voted in favour of removing the figure while everyone else voted against.
Nann, who moved the motion, urged her fellow councillors at the time to support it, saying the city must do more to support the Indigenous community in the wake of discoveries of unmarked graves at residential school sites across Canada.
“By not removing the statue, unfortunately, what we will be doing is saying to Indigenous people across Turtle Island that this Hamilton City Council expects you to continue to endure pain, and trauma, and harm,” she said.
Although that motion was defeated, there was unanimous support among councillors for a review of Hamilton’s landmarks and monuments, which was expected to cost about $75,000.
Many councillors, including Ward 6’s Tom Jackson, said in July they did not want to see the statue taken down before the city has a chance to complete that review.
“I want to give this report a chance,” he said at the time.
“To remove anything right now, as this motion is before us, to remove anything right now, to me preempts the opportunity of this landmarks and monuments review.”
He also expressed concern that removing the Macdonald statue would create a “domino effect” of other monuments being the subject of scrutiny.
That was a concern echoed by other councillors, including Ward 10’s Maria Pearson.
“Today it’s Sir John A. Macdonald and Ryerson. Tomorrow, it could be Queen Victoria, it could be Laurier, Mackenzie, MacNab. It could be the naming of streets. There’s so many things and so many implications of what decision is made today.”
Other Canadian cities, such as Kingston and Charlottetown, have removed their statues of Canada’s first prime minister in recent weeks in light of his role in establishing the country’s residential school system and the damage that his policies have done to Indigenous people.
Ward 9 Coun. Brad Clark previously said he supported the statue being temporarily put into storage while the review is underway as a gesture of “good faith” ahead of consultations with Indigenous residents.
He also referenced the statue, which was erected in Hamilton in 1893, as being a target of vandalism if it remains standing.
“My fear is that someone is going to, in the dark of night — and it has been vandalized a number of times already — is going to pull it down. And that statue could be damaged significantly, and the cost would well exceed what we were going to spend just to put it in secure storage so that we know where it is and that it’s safe.”
Weeks before the July vote, the statue has been splashed with red paint on one occasion and was covered up with a black cloth and red rope on another occasion.
Hamilton Police Chief Frank Bergen told Global News Radio 900 CHML’s Bill Kelly Show in a July interview mischief charges could be laid if the statue was damaged.
“When we hear about actions … such as defacing a statue or looking at some type of response, we have used our police liaison team approach, who then work with the organizers,” he said.
He referenced the statue being “shrouded” with the black cloth and red rope as one time when the service worked with demonstrators to prevent the statue from being defaced.
And her referred to the 215 silhouettes placed in the forecourt of city hall. “That is a respective reminder for us to understand the impact of what is going on with regards to residential schools, but as a community, this is a larger discussion. We may play a role — our role is to keep the peace, it’s community safety.”
The Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program has a hotline to help residential school survivors and their relatives suffering with trauma invoked by the recall of past abuse. The number is 1-866-925-4419.