The older I get, I seem to appreciate more about my country’s history.
I think back to our young country in the early days; the turmoil of the early 1800’s, with the French and the British divide of Upper Canada and Lower Canada. The mapping out of land claims and territories for the mother lands. Think of the many battles and conflicts that were waged, until finally in 1867 we became Canada.
Sir John A. MacDonald, our first Prime Minister and our architect of Confederation, was a builder and also, for the good of the country, a compromiser. In 1864, in order to bring the country together, he formed a coalition with George Browns Liberals to bring much needed constitutional changes that lead to the ultimate formation of the Dominion of Canada.
Lately, there has been much debate and discussion around our Prime Minister’s Path in Wilmot Township. Specifically, Sir John A. MacDonald’s statue. I have watched Wilmot council meetings as both presenters and councillors have passionately weighed in on the issue. Sir John A.’s statue being doused with red paint by people trying to make a statement just divides the Township even more. As a former Municipal leader, I have learned to use Sargent Friday of Dragnet’s approach of “just the facts please” when being presented with emotionally charged debates. So let’s look at the facts, and the big picture here.
Sir John A. MacDonald was a lawyer by trade before his calling into public service. His great desire was to bring Canada together as a united country. After our confederation of 1867, our economy wasn’t doing well. Sir John A. had a plan to strengthen the economy of the country with a national policy that would implement tariffs on goods from the United States to protect our Canadian businesses. He was a cheerleader for the Railroad, as he saw it as the thread that would connect a new country from East to West.
Yes, he was the Prime Minister at the time that implemented the residential school policy. The schools were created by the Government and administered by Christian churches. The purpose of these boarding schools was to assimilate native children into Canadian culture. That on its own is disturbing, but the abuse that the children were subject just turns my stomach. In my research, Sir John A. was not a champion for the residential school model. He campaigned on uniting our country and national unity. He was an advocate for women’s rights, and also had to be carried off of Parliament Hill because he was too intoxicated to walk.
Senator Murray Sinclair (former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada) said the problem with tearing down statues is “counterproductive to reconciliation, because it almost smacks of revenge, or smacks of acts of anger, but in reality what we are trying to do is to create more balance in the relationship.”
Should we be removing statues because of something based on a single policy that was widely supported at the time?
We have a rich heritage in Canada. There’s the good, the bad and the ugly, just as in most countries. I believe our good more than outweighs our bad and ugly. I believe we cannot erase only the bad and keep the good. We must learn from our past sins and grow to become better members of our always evolving society.
If we begin to remove the statues of the past influencers of our world, the list will need to be expanded considerably. Should we remove the statue of St. Paul the Apostle in St. Peter’s Square because of the hundreds of Christians he had tortured and killed before seeing the light? Maybe we should remove the statue of Queen Victoria in the Kitchener park that bears her name, because of her unwillingness to help the Irish during the great famine where over 1 million people died?
The Prime Ministers Path in Wilmot Township is a destination in Baden. It is a reminder of our rich history and can also be a great teaching moment for the future. Wilmot Councillors need to stop looking for soap box issues charged with emotion to make their mark. Do the responsible thing. Look at the issue and represent all your constituents.