PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY – The future of Picton’s downtown memorial statue of Canada’s first Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald is in the hands of residents, heritage experts and local politicians.
Amid Macdonald statue controversies in other municipalities across Canada, including in Kingston who is keeping its statue, the Prince Edward Heritage Advisory Committee (PEHAC) is set to ask for public comments on whether to keep the statue in the town’s core.
At issue is Macdonald’s role in the mistreatment of First Nations in the 1860s and his creation of residential schools for native children.
The statue by Ruth Abernethy called “Holding Court” depicts the moment when the teenage Macdonald won his first court case in the Picton Courthouse on Oct. 8, 1834 before a judge and jury.
In a press release issued Friday by the municipality, advisory committee chairman Ken Dewar said the committee is aware there are differing opinions as to Macdonald’s role and how his legacy should be remembered.
“Statutes are powerful symbols that can evoke a range of emotions for different people. Determining the future of the statue in our community will not be an easy conversation, especially given the complex legacy of Canada’s first prime minister. However, I believe we can have a constructive deliberation that respects all viewpoints.”
The heritage committee has been asked to develop recommendations and provide advice to council as it relates to the statue. It is anticipated the heritage committee will establish a working group to examine the issue. Dewar will invite stakeholders with a range of perspectives and viewpoints to participate.
The committee is slated to meet next week to review the working group membership and terms of reference for the review with a report scheduled to be submitted to council Sept. 1.
The statue was presented to the municipality in 2015 by the Macdonald Project of Prince Edward County to celebrate the bicentennial of the birth of Macdonald, a leading figure in Canadian Confederation.
After it was removed to facilitate renovations at The Armoury on Picton Main Street, the statue was re-installed in front of the Picton Library in December 2019.
“We want to hear ideas about ways we can recognize our first Prime Minister’s complex legacy,” stated Prince Edward County Mayor Steve Ferguson at the time of the reinstallation.
“I am hopeful that this consultation, together with the library’s speaker series, will help our community think more deeply about the process of reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples,” Ferguson said in December.
By Derek Baldwin
Prince Edward Heritage Advisory Committee to invite input on fate of Sir John A. Macdonald Statue
RED HANDED The statue depicting Sir John A Macdonald outside the Picton Library was defaced by unknown person(s) with red paint some time in the early morning hours of June 29. (Submitted Photo)
Public consultation cannot come soon enough for the statue of Sir John A. Macdonald. Though the statue currently resides in front of the Picton Public Library, its fate remains to be seen with the municipality having announced on June 26 that a public discussion would be led by the Prince Edward Heritage Advisory Committee (PEHAC) on the future of the statue.
The statue was commissioned to artist Ruth Abernathy and was presented to the municipality in 2015 by the Macdonald Project of Prince Edward County to celebrate the bicentennial of the birth of Macdonald. The representation of Canada’s first Prime Minister as well as the architect of the Indian Act is entitled ‘Holding Court’ and was unveiled to the public on Canada Day of that year. It is presented as a tribute to the Macdonald’s time in Prince Edward County as a young man working at his uncle’s law office.
After the statue was removed to make way for renovations at the Armoury, it was re-installed in front of the Picton Library in December 2019.
With its prominent place on Main Street, and prior to the pandemic, the library had used the statue to facilitate a speaker series, that included well-known Indigenous thinker and author, Dr. Niigan Sinclair.
Just three days after the PEHAC consultation was announced, County residents woke up Monday morning to find the hands of Canada’s first prime minister soaked in red paint which was removed by municipal workers a short time later. Several other Macdonald statues across the country have recently been soaked in red paint.
With the degree of Macdonald’s reprehensible and brutal acts towards indigenous peoples having reached mainstream consciousness, there is a palpable sense of frustration among many who regard the statue as a legacy of systemic racism.
Many in the community have also called for the statue to be removed.
“Statutes are powerful symbols that can evoke a range of emotions for different people. Determining the future of the statue in our community will not be an easy conversation, especially given the complex legacy of Canada’s first Prime Minister. However, I believe we can have a constructive deliberation that respects all viewpoints,” said PEHAC Chair Ken Dewar.
The County’s Chief Administrative Officer asked PEHAC to develop recommendations and provide advice to Council as it relates to the statue.
It is anticipated that PEHAC will establish a working group to examine the issue. The PEHAC Chair will invite stakeholders with a range of perspectives and viewpoints to participate.
PEHAC will meet next week to review the working group membership and terms of reference. A report from the PEHAC working group is expected to go to Council for consideration on September 1
By Sarah Wiliams, reporter, Picton Gazette