Following a letter-writing campaign led by a local activist, Hamilton city council may vote next week on whether to remove a downtown statue of Sir John A. Macdonald.
Ward 3 City Councillor Nrinder Nann has a motion on the agenda for the July 8 emergency and community services committee meeting. It calls for city staff to immediately remove the Macdonald statue from Gore Park and place it into storage.
Several other cities and school boards in Canada have removed statues of Canada’s first prime minister or removed his name from buildings in recognition of his role in the creation of residential schools. The schools were an instrument of the Canadian state’s effort to assimilate Indigenous peoples, which is a source of ongoing trauma for residential school survivors and their families.
In the last five weeks, searches led by First Nations have confirmed that the remains of over 1,250 Indigenous childrens are buried in graves at former residential school sites in British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. A national outpouring of grief led to over 75 communities across the country cancelling Canada Day events. Hamilton opted for a more muted marking of the nation’s birthday.
Macdonald’s government introduced residential schools in 1883 to remove Indigenous children from their families. Nann’s motion notes that Macdonald in 1879 stated that an Indigenous child educated at a First Nation “(was) simply a savage who can read and write.”
Nann’s motion notes Hamilton adopted the Urban Indigenous Strategy in 2019. It also points out that Hamilton is “falling behind” other city councils in Canada that have removed statues of Macdonald.
“Survivors of residential schools, Indigenous elders and families, members of the Hamilton Aboriginal Advisory Committee, participants of the Urban Indigenous Strategy consultations, and hundreds more in the form of public demonstrations have clearly communicated to the City of Hamilton about the need to remove the Sir John A. MacDonald statue from Gore Park in order to facilitate healing,” states the motion, which would need a seconder in order to be put to a vote.
The committee’s meeting agenda includes over 600 letters from Hamilton residents that call on Mayor Fred Eisenberger and city council to remove the Macdonald statue. Typically, letters to a city committee over an agenda item are listed individually, but in this case the letters are batched into one document “due to volume of letters received.”
Last week, Jordan Carrier, a Hamilton activist who is Plains Cree, started a letter-writing campaign to push for the statue’s removal.
On June 20, it was covered in black fabric during a gathering at Gore Park held by Indigenous activists and allies. Three days later, a group not associated with the City of Hamilton removed it.
Coun. Nann is also bringing forward a motion to remove the name Ryerson from the recreation centre at 251 Duke St. in Hamilton. Egerton Ryerson is considered one of the primary architects of Canada’s residential school system
Hamilton’s public school board has removed Ryerson’s name from a school, and Hamilton Bike Share has also removed his name from its digital and physical assets.
The emergency and community services committee meeting on July 8, and can be followed through the City of Hamiton’s YouTube channel (youtube.com/user/InsideCityofHamilton) or on Cable 14.