Paul Allen: Good evening, Mr. Mayor and Councillors.
Paul Allen: I want to thank you all first for giving me an opportunity this evening to share my concerns about the municipality’s plan to re-install the Macdonald “Holding Court” statue on Picton Main Street in the near future, as I understand it.
I also wanted to commend the municipality – and its Library Board, especially – for recognizing the value and, indeed, the necessity of combining any resurrection of Macdonald “Holding Court” on Picton Main Street with a series of public conversations about the good, the bad, and frankly, the ugly parts of Macdonald’s involvement in Canada’s early history.
Paul Allen: When I began, a few weeks ago, to pay more attention to matters to do with Macdonald and Macdonald statues and so on, I first wondered, How many statues can there be in Canada? And I thought, oh I don’t know, there’s probably a hundred, maybe as many as a thousand. When I found my answer on Macleans, it turns out there are a total of 10 statues to Macdonald in all of our country. Half of them were erected in the late 1890s, very shortly after Macdonald’s death, and two of them, including the statue in Picton and another, by the same artist, Ruth Abernathy, in Baden, Ontario, were erected on the two hundredth anniversary of Macdonald’s birthday.
As I’ve been able to reconstruct the conception of the “Holding Court” statue, it seemed to be a project conceived by a group of local residents with an interest in preserving heritage and promoting the history of the County. It was embraced by Council, I believe, as part of a rejuvenation of Picton’s Main Street. So, besides it carrying sort of an historical interest for people, it was also – let’s say at least a small part of a strategic plan that the municipality had for rejuvenating business on Main Street. It was meant to, sort of, keep things from falling down anymore than they already had, as well as to bring a level of tourism and an interest in the heritage and history of the County. So, in a way, it was going to be a focal point.
Paul Allen: 2015 – besides being the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of John A. Macdonald – was also the year that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada published its findings and its calls-to-action. The Commission was lead by then Justice, now Senator Murray Sinclair. He spent six years interviewing hundreds of victims and survivors – if they can be called survivors – of institutional abuse in our country. These were young men and women, parents, and grandparents who had been through the wringer in Canada.
Tonight it’s hard to talk about that report and what it found, because you end up recognizing things about this country, its early history, and the so-called Father of Confederation who, until at least 2015 or so, had been held in very high esteem. I can remember, you know, singing songs in 1967 as we were celebrating Canada. It was sort of our great awakening as a nation, and we were looking for heroes, like George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, and there weren’t many to hand. But John A. Macdonald, as I was a school boy, was held up, and he was an object of tremendous pride and interest on the part of Canadians. So, it was a tremendous shock for me, I know, to learn a lot more about this man’s involvement in shaping the history of our country. And that his dream for a transcontinental railway, and his impatience to see that dream realized in his lifetime, really forced upon the Indigenous peoples in the Prairies, especially, treaties that were to their disadvantage – the use of food to compel them to come into an agreement with treaties that weren’t in their interest – and the use of the residential school system to break up families and interrupt the passing of culture and values from one generation of Indigenous peoples to another.
Paul Allen: It’s hard to hear the words “genocide” and “Canada” being brought together. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission softens the blow a little bit, because they don’t come out and say “It was “genocide” full stop. They add, it was “cultural genocide”. So, it was something short of the physical extermination of a peoples because of who they are, or what they believe. But it did target, in Canada, virtually every aspect that set them apart as a distinct peoples. And, “cultural genocide” whether it’s in Canada, or anywhere else, is recognized as involving these sorts of practices, where land is seized, where populations are forcibly transferred and their movement is restricted. Where languages are banned. Where spiritual leaders are persecuted. Where families are disrupted to prevent the transmission of traditions and identity from one generation to the next. All of these things happened in Canada. And they happened at the behest of John Macdonald. They couldn’t have proceeded without his steady hand, and his determination to see his dream through. So, he is not an incidental participant in this. He was the architect.
Paul Allen: It’s interesting – my PowerPoint refuses to display where Macdonald stood – sorry, where he stood on the issue of residential schools. (NOTE: When presented to Council, the text of Macdonald’s address did not appear on the slide). But he was unequivocal. In the House of Commons in 1883 he said, “When the school is on the reserve, the child lives with his parents, who are savages. He’s surrounded by savages, and though he may learn to read and write, his habits, and training, and mode of thought are Indian. He is simply a savage who can read and write.” And the conclusion that he drew was, you had to take that kid away from his family, as far away as you could manage, and insulate him between the language and the culture of his family, so that he could be taught properly.
In my work in children’s mental health, I can tell you that I have seen the effects of this type of abuse of children over the many generations. I’ve worked with kids and families from across Ontario, from Nunavut, from Labrador. I’ve consulted to programs in Saskatchewan that work with lots of Indigenous kids. My colleagues have been asked by the Coroner in Ontario to be parts of investigations of the deaths of Indigenous children in the care of children’s aid societies in this province, even as we speak today. So, for , when I hear about the residential school system and its victimization of Indigenous peoples, it’s not something in the past. It’s something that’s very much alive in our communities. And, I can assure you that the children I met, are every bit as beautiful as my own. The families of these children love their kids every bit as much as I love my kids. They’re as clear about the struggles that they’re facing – they judge themselves at least as harshly as anybody I’ve ever heard speak ill of Indigenous peoples. They’re well aware of their shortcomings. They’re trying to get themselves back on their feet. And, they’re trying to get us out of their way.
Paul Allen: As Canadians have come to grips with John Macdonald, you know, the cities across the nation who have these statues of the man in place, have found themselves, either at their own instigation, or at the instigation of Indigenous peoples in their communities, to have a look at who they’re honouring and how they’re memorializing historical figures. And, Macdonald has come into a lot of scrutiny – not just because he’s the so-called Father of Confederation, but because of his very direct, personal involvement in the establishment and the operation of the residential school system. And his clear articulation of the racism that underlies those policies in our country.
Probably Victoria has gone the farthest. I don’t know that they are happy that they did so, but they lead the way, in really taking a hard look at what it meant to honour John A. Macdonald. I don’t know that they’ve yet come to a resolution, but at least at some point in 2018, they decided, you know, we have to remove this statue, at least temporarily. We can put a plaque in its place. It’s a marker there. We’re not going to melt the thing down and make it into coins or medallions or use it to honour other people who may not have the same history as Macdonald. But we can’t simply ignore the struggles in our community, and what this kind of memorial represents to Indigenous peoples. We have to do something, besides assure them that we share their pain, but that they have to understand history is history, and everything has a context, and who would we be to judge Sir John A. Macdonald for what he did so long ago?
Mayor Ferguson: Paul, can I ask you to …
Paul Allen: Yes – hurry up?
Mayor Ferguson: Yep.
Paul Allen: So, I don’t know exactly what went on in Picton back in 2015. Whether this was seen as a gift horse that you didn’t want to look in the mouth of. Whether it’s the sort of thing, you were sort of sorry you got yourself into, because there was that bloody Truth and Reconciliation Commission that published its findings, just on the eve of the opening of this monument on Main Street.
There were some issues raised by Letters to the Editor, the Editor of The Picton Gazette himself had some Commentary to offer, at least about residential schools. But, really, the committee – I mean, the community – here was very quiet about the connection between Macdonald and the residential school system. And there didn’t seem to be a lot of official hesitation about unveiling the statue.
Mayor Ferguson: Paul, I’m going to have to ask you to wrap it up.
Paul Allen: Yep.
Paul Allen: So a couple of weeks ago I went to the first of a series of public presentations lead by, actually, a fellow who turns out to be Senator Sinclair’s son, Niigan Sinclair. And he spoke for an hour and a half and answered questions, spoke very forthrightly. And he was asked a question:
Paul Allen: “What would you have done with the monument, if it were up to you?” I don’t think it was a fair question for him, but he gave an answer anyway.
Paul Allen: And, he said, as a newcomer and as an Indigenous person what I would say is, I would ask myself, “How do Indigenous peoples in this territory feel about you putting up a monument to John A. Macdonald?” And if your answer is, “We don’t know” – then you need to start there.
Paul Allen: I would say, we in the room and Council, also have to include “How do non-Indigenous people feel about this statue coming up?” I don’t think anybody in this room has the answer to that question, because I don’t think it’s been asked by anybody.
Paul Allen: I think you have the perfect opportunity with the guy in storage to leave him there until you have the chance to have that conversation in this community, about how people feel about bringing John A. Macdonald back onto Picton Main Street. It’s not a straightforward issue, and I think you would be wise not to treat it as such. Thanks.
Mayor Ferguson: OK, thank you, Paul.
Paul Allen: Sorry I went long.
Mayor Ferguson: OK, questions from Members of Council? Anybody have any questions? Councillor Roberts.
Councillor Roberts: Paul, thank you for your deputation. A very good friend of mine, Marie Wilson, was also a Commissioner on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. She reminds me, that of the ninety plus recommendations in the TRC report, not one of them asks for the removal of a name, or a statue, either from a school, or from a municipality, or anywhere from a park. So, in some ways, what she was getting at, or what some of the Commission was getting at, was rather than, rather than look at something like sanitizing history, could we be better off by engaging in conversation and dialogue around those pivot points in history that deserve more scrutiny, and that deserve more challenge, rather than trying to remove selectively parts of our history? I think that’s a very valid consideration in re-installing the statue.
I also think that … – I’ve heard people say, following Dr. Sinclair’s presentation – which, by all accounts, was brilliant, astute, challenging, even exciting – that maybe the Mohawk should have been consulted regarding the statue, ideally consulted. That leaves the impression that the Committee which brought the statue forward 2015 didn’t reach out. But in fact they did, but didn’t get a response. And that, to me, Paul, speaks to something which is a really over-arching issue – and that is the absence of conversation between our community and the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte. And the only “gold star” that I can think to pin anywhere is our Prince Edward County Museums staff, who I believe have done an excellent job of creating that dialogue, and that conversation, at a very human and personal level.
Paul Allen: Yep.
Councillor Roberts: I also think it’s a mistake to say that … and I know your intentions are excellent, Paul – but to say that John A. Macdonald was not an incidental participant in what has happened …
Paul Allen: Right.
Councillor Roberts: I think, we are not incidental participants, our parents are not incidental participants, and our grandparents aren’t incidental participants. So, where does it stop? And, where does it start? If all that has happened in terms of the terrible crimes visited on our Indigenous peoples, was at the catalyst of Sir John A. Macdonald, our first Prime Minister, then why are so many terrible, terrible things enduring 129 years in this country after his death?
So, again, it brings me to a place which says, Let’s use those artifacts, which are true history. He was a lawyer here …
Mayor Ferguson: Councillor Roberts, is there a question here?
Councillor Roberts: Paul, is anything I’m saying making any sense to you – in terms of your position?
Paul Allen: Look, my opinion of John A. Macdonald is pretty firm. I don’t disagree, though, that there needs to be conversation with people about what we do with this. I’m not clear that I want to erase him, in terms of statues. Take the statues off all the cities’ lots in Canada, or take his name off all the schools. What I am saying, though, is it’s very meaningful that he’s being memorialized. It’s very disturbing for me, it’s very disturbing for a lot of Indigenous peoples, and talking about “contextualizing” or “putting signage” or having “art installations in the neighbourhood” is fine – and maybe that’s how we resolve this issue in our communities, one at a time. My concern, here, is that that conversation doesn’t seem to be recognized as important. And, it should happen before you bring the statue back onto Main Street. In my view. I’m not saying, “It shouldn’t come back.” But how, and even where, it should come back, to me … there’s a lot of important issues here. I could see a difference between having him outside the Court House, as opposed to outside the Library, for reasons I don’t need to get into, right now. But there are issues like that. And, I don’t … I can’t speak to why MBQ was involved or not involved, or whatever. You know, if people truly don’t have the interest, and they don’t show up, or they won’t even tell you why, that’s one thing. I don’t feel I’m ready to accept that that’s the case here, right?
Mayor Ferguson: Councillor McNaughton.
Councillor McNaughton: Thank you. Hi!
Paul Allen: Hi!
Councillor McNaughton: Thank you. So, we’ve discussed this a few times. We’ve had some good opportunities to discuss this. And, I would really thank you for bringing this forward. As I wander around this town, I hear this perspective quite a lot, as you know. I hear …
Paul Allen: Which perspective, sorry?
Councillor McNaughton: … yours. Well, actually, perhaps the perspective, “Why is it coming back at all?” including at a birthday party, and Books and Company, in front of the Library, several times. There are people in this room that I have spoken to, about this very topic, “Why is it coming back?” So, I really appreciate your being here. I also have sort of … was raised, was bathed in, the idea of Macdonald being a great man. My dad adored him and his drinking habits – all folded in together. He was a bit of a fan of Macdonald. And, I grew up with Pierre Berton’s books and I grew up with the mythology, which is based in reality. I do, however, and we’ve discussed it before, I do want to see that statue back on the street, at this point, I think. So, I’m looking forward to the public conversation that it allows us to have. I see our town as a place where that conversation can begin. And, not just for our community, but many, as tourists walk through this town, as tens of thousands of people walk through this town, every year. Engaging in an interactive statue, they might learn something from signage, but I … or from how we address the public space. And, I haven’t had an opportunity to discuss what the library plans are with all of Council together, but I’m still, at this point, trying to keep an open mind, and trying to believe in an open process of consultation that begins with the Library Speakers Series. I hear what you’re saying about not having the statue’s presence in the interim. I certainly think that it’s a concern to have it back without some sort of signage recognizing that this process is going forward.
Mayor Ferguson: Is there a question?
Councillor McNaughton: Does there have to be? (chuckles) There doesn’t necessarily have to be. Not in the Code of Conduct or the Procedural Manual. But, I do, actually, have a question. So, if the statue does come back … because we were told – you and I were told, that it was coming back, probably the week, last week, or as … very soon, in the very near future. If it did come back, and there was some signage to address that there’s a process going forward, does that help? That there’s a process of consultation going forward? I don’t know either. I’m just …
Paul Allen: I don’t mean to duck your question, but I don’t think that I’m really to best person to ask.
Councillor McNaughton: Oh, I’m only asking for your perspective.
Paul Allen: Oh, my perspective …
Councillor McNaughton: Just your perspective. Because I am trying to get in contact with …
Paul Allen: You know, I have so idea what signage you’re speaking about – or who would be in agreement with it.
Councillor McNaughton: Me either.
Paul Allen: You know, I would be one vote, and, by far, not the most important vote.
Councillor McNaughton: No. OK.
Mayor Ferguson: Councillor Margetson.
Councillor Margetson: Thank you, Paul. That’s a very thoughtful and informative deputation, and I really appreciate your effort to bring this issue forward. And I appreciate your words. I’m just wondering, do you have any thought about what process we might go through, in terms of public consultation, and what that might entail, if you were going to … what are your thoughts on that process going forward? If we didn’t accept the statue back? I was expecting to see it this week, when the fence came down, so I mean, it’s not there yet, but what is your thought on a process going forward? Do you have any … have you thought about that?
Paul Allen: You know, I don’t know if I know enough about your structure, or even the history, but I went last week to speak to the Heritage Advisory Committee, thinking that they might (chuckles) be of some help. But, I would kind of put this sort of discussion, or this sort of issue, in the context of some body you already have. So, if you have a group of people, with a background and an interest in the history and heritage of the place, and if they have any Indigenous people on that Board, all the better, and if they don’t, maybe they could spearhead the outreach to the MBQ. You have local Indigenous leaders, like Troy Maracle and Summer Bertrand, who work with the Board of Education. Whether they’re your links or the connectors with MBQ at large, I don’t know. I believe Niigan Sinclair, if you can stand him, would be ready to be a resource or a consultant to people.
You know, Murray Sinclair says this disaster took 150 years to create, and it’s going to take about that long or longer to get it right. So, there is no ready answer. And, I’m sure, there’s every reason to be hesitant to even open up this can of worms, because who knows where you’re going to go with it. And, in Victoria, it was a very difficult conversation. I just think it’s … you’re going, you’re going to get into a difficult situation, whether you do it before you bring the thing out, or if you just plop it down on the street, and then say, “Now let’s talk about how you feel.” You’re going to catch it that way. So, I would recommend you be proactive – you can even consult about how you’re going to consult – but you need to at least invite people around the table. And, they have to feel that you’re sincere in the invitation – and, I don’t know, you know, how difficult your relationships are with the Indigenous peoples in this area. I have no idea about that.
Mayor Ferguson: OK. Thank you, Paul.