, 08.15.2018 08:14 AM

On Sir John A., and Sir John A. statues

From next week’s Hill Times column, which I’m still trying to cobble together, like a monument of sorts:

If you disagree [that we should remove statues paying tribute to racists], a challenge. Imagine, for a moment, you are a First Nations person – or imagine that you are, like me, father to a beautiful and perfect indigenous girl.

Just imagine that. Then read these words.

Here’s what [Macdonald] said in 1879: “When the school is on the reserve, the child lives with its parents, who are savages. He is simply a savage who can read and write. Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence, and the only way to do that would be to put them in central training industrial schools where they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men.”

And here’s what he said in 1885: “…we have been pampering and coaxing the Indians; [but] we must take a new course, we must vindicate the position of the white man, we must teach the Indians what law is.”

Also in 1885: “I have not hesitated to tell this House, again and again, that we could not always hope to maintain peace with the Indians; that the savage was still a savage, and that until he ceased to be savage, we were always in danger of a collision, in danger of war, in danger of an outbreak.”

A couple years later, in 1887: “The great aim of our legislation has been to do away with the tribal system and assimilate the Indian people in all respects with the other inhabitants of the Dominion as speedily as they are fit to change.”

And, finally, this in 1884, when describing potlaches, the joyful indigenous gatherings held to celebrate births, deaths, adoptions, weddings: “…celebrating the ‘potlatch’ is a misdemeanor. This Indian festival is debauchery of the worst kind, and the departmental officers and all clergymen unite in affirming that it is absolutely necessary to put this practice down.”

And “put them down” Sir John A. did. He gave Canada’s First Nations – the ones who were here first – assimilation, brutality and genocidal residential schools.

That’s what he gave them, and us.


  1. Matt says:

    While I understand and appreciate what you’re saying, I just don’t know how we judge statements made 120+ years ago through today’s standards.

    Our history books would be the size of a pamphlet.

    It’s 2018. Could you leave the statues in place and put one of those bar code thingys that when you hover your cell phone over it it takes you to a site that gives the persons full history? Talks about the good and the not so good so people get the whole picture?

    • pierre lawayne says:

      Let me pause for a moment of silence as I ponder the cowardice of your words.
      OK, that’s long enough.

      • Ridiculosity says:

        Reality check: Residential schools were established by Christian missionaries, including Catholic, Anglican, United, Presbyterian and Methodist ministries. That’s the real root of the issue, yet who has the temerity to suggest we remove all of the statues (and buildings) that have been erected to honour them?

  2. Robert White says:

    First Nations is right to attack the legacy of Sir John A. Macdonald municipally, provincially, & federally. First Nations should have attained equal representation in all of our legislatures by now, and CANADA should include First Nations Cree language as CANADA’s third official language so that First Nations is represented under our shared language laws. Bottom line is that if CANADA had instituted official trilingualism instead of official bilingualism we would have had less political & social disharmony between English CANADA & First Nations people.

    P.S. I never realized how racist Sir John A. Macdonald’s words were historically. I actually painted Sir John A. Macdonald’s historic home [see Earnscliff British High Commission] too. Lastly, Sir John A. Macdonald had a disabled daughter that he went to great extent to accommodate in the family home. Merely by looking at the interior architecture in Earnscliff one can see that Sir John A. really had compassion for the plight his disabled daughter was in.


    • Chris says:

      Yeah. The Mikmaq, Salish, Blackfoot, Inuit, Dene, and many others would just love being sideswiped like that. Let’s have fifty official languages. Let’s set aside a national holiday to celebrate all of these languages. Let’s do any easy, useless, and/or symbolic act, rather than something concrete and difficult that would actually help people (clean water, education funding).

      • Robert White says:

        Guaranteed that all the groups you could list would happily accept Cree & official trilingualism. With such official recognition First Nations would garner federal power and requisite funding for First Nations people that need new wells drilled and septic systems too. Education & opportunity would follow suit IMHO.


        • Sam says:

          No they would not. (happily accept Cree, that is) I know many north west Dene & Chipewyan folk that don’t have a lot of use for the Cree, and even less use for their language. The way they see it the Cree are intruders , same as the Europeans they accompanied when they came with them to this territory.

          I’m Salish, and I’d like to see Cree as a 3rd language about as much as I’d like to see Nootka or Dutch.

          I wouldn’t.

          I also had Aunt’s & Uncles in residential school, one of them never made it home. Residential schools were abhorrent and were just as much a product of the churches as they were the government of the day. If we push this logic further then all place of religious worship need to be dismantled too.

          That said, I’m also a proud Canadian, and as much as I may find MacDonald’s words and views of his day vile and disgusting, I find this whole business of removing statues & trying to rewrite history because of what someone said or thought over a century ago equally vile and disgusting.

          A George Orwell quote comes to mind here.

          Things like this aren’t going to help native folk either, rather they will reinforce the “poor you” victim-hood mentality that left leaning folk love to encourage among us. The more that narrative is pushed the more my people suffer, it’s much easier to wallow around in self pity than take control and move on. Trust me, I see it all the time.

          These people that use the natives past suffering to slot them into their own lofty narratives are the worst bigots of all. The soft bigotry of low expectations is real, it’s out there, it’s as bad as any other bigotry there is.

          • Robert White says:

            Cree is considered to be the most viable start on official recognition based upon First Nations perspective. In 2015 First Nations issued a statement regarding the 60 aboriginal languages they wanted the federal government to legislate official language designation.

            see this… https://www.nationalia.info/new/10571/first-nations-say-official-status-for-60-indigenous-languages-should-be-canadas-ultimate-g#prettyPh

            P.S. I have spent much thought on First Nations & Cree as an official language. If you don’t like the idea I still have First Nations behind Cree as an official designated language with the most potential for government backing legislatively.

            I’m not into white man paternalism so if you don’t like my idea please understand that I’m not the only one that thinks it’s high time aboriginal CANADA has a seat at the table and First Nations calls the shots IMHO.


  3. Killer Marmot says:

    A hundred years from now they’ll be tearing down statues of current politicians because of their repugnant views.

    • pierre lawayne says:

      A hundred years from now we’ll be under 5o feet of water and the first nations people will laugh at us from up above the treeline.

    • Westguy says:

      McDonald’s views of natives were similar to the views of many others at the time and that includes the establishment and intellectuals. Look at Tommy Douglas and his support of eugenics for “sub-normals.” Why is there still a Nellie McClung school?
      These weren’t “repugnant” views at the time, they were the views of the establishment. To put it in context your comment should have been, “100 years from now, they’ll be tearing down statues of current politicians because they supported action on climate change. ”
      What comes around goes around and it’s only a matter of time before someone wants to tear down or rename something that you think shouldn’t be altered.

  4. Peter says:

    Just about everybody in the late 19th century was racist in the sense that term is understood today. It was the age of imperialism, colonialism, moral improvement, white man’s burden, missions civilisatrices, missionaries, Jim Crow and social Darwinism. The early 19th century was much more tolerant. Those who brutalized aboriginal children and those who genuinely sought to help them were united in believing assimilation was the ultimate goal. That attitude persisted until 1969 with Trudeau Sr.’s White Paper that called for the dismemberment of the reserve system, full legal equality and integration into the mainstream, all in the name of universal human rights and equality. It spawned the aboriginal political resistance that has grown so influential today, but somehow I don’t imagine we’ll be taking down statues of PET anytime soon, but who knows?

    This makes me sad in a general sense, but there is no way I want to be associated with some of the voices reacting against it ( most of whom, I doubt, even know who MacDonald was) or get into no-win arguments with angry progressives demanding to know if I favour genocide. In an age when the BBC condemns Florence Nightingale as a racist, one learns to keep one’s counsel. If asked, I would point out that the statue wasn’t there because he subjugated aboriginals, it was there because he created Canada. Was Canada a good thing? I would say yes, but I would not expect an aboriginal Canadian to say the same or resent him/her for disagreeing. Still…

    As the King of Siam said in The King and I, “Ti’s a puzzlement.”

    • pierre lawayne says:

      ” It was the age of imperialism, colonialism, moral improvement, white man’s burden, missions civilisatrices, missionaries, Jim Crow and social Darwinism”

      sort of like the Pennsylvania priests then?

  5. William R Morrison says:

    Rather strongly put, but essentially true. But it’s equally true that the system was perpetuated through the administrations of Laurier, Borden, Mackenzie King, St. Laurent, and even Trudeau I. Down with their statues too?

  6. Art says:

    Now we sit back and watch the right wingers come to the defence of the incredibly racist Macdonald.

    • Killer Marmot says:

      Pretty much everyone in the 19th century was “incredibly racist” by modern standards. In JAM’s case, we just happen to have written evidence of his views.

      • Walter says:

        Interesting that there is no mention of MacDonald extending more Indians the right to vote, and then Wilfred Laurier took it away. I wonder if Laurier being a Liberal is the reason he is not mentioned?

      • Fred from BC says:

        True. We also have evidence (studiously ignored by many here, I see) that Sir John A. McDonald was in fact considered a *progressive* at that time, unpopular as it may have been. He advocated for aboriginals to be ALLOWED TO VOTE. Women, too (oh, the horror!).

        He was not the ‘architect’ of the residential schools, which were designed not for “cultural genocide” (oh, please…) but for assimilation into mainstream Canadian society (back when that was considered to be a good thing). He was Prime Minister at the time, yes…but others actually designed and implemented the system, which survived 18 Prime Ministers (any one of whom could have ended the practice, but didn’t) and lasted another 40 years after McDonald’s death.

        History should be learned from, not re-written or erased. That’s a child’s solution, frankly.

  7. Steve says:

    Wow. Just wow. Where does this politically correct BS end ? Next they will rewrite the history books and make sure they remove any mention of anyone who ever offended someone. In my opinion this is a concerted effort to erase or rewrite Canadian history. All countries walk a winding path to their eventual destiny. This journey is full of many proud, and also regrettable, events and characters. History is there for us all to learn from – the good, the bad and the ugly. Those who cannot remember (or just deny) the past are condemned to repeat it. The lunatics are indeed running the asylum on many fronts in Canada.

  8. Bill says:

    We should be taking the same approach to MacDonald that Princeton took with Woodrow Wilson legacy.


  9. Eastern Rebellion says:

    People are products of their time. Leaders make decisions based on what they think is in the best interests of their country at the time, if they are truly interested in their country. Alternatively, there are some leaders who make cynical decisions based on what will keep them in office. If it wasn’t for Sir John, the Canada we know of today would not exist. There should be no doubt of that. We would have been absorbed by the United States. Of course Canada could have done better by the indigenous peoples, but we could also have done a lot worse, and you don’t have to look very far around the world to see examples of that. I don’t care about statues; as far as I am concerned they are just a place for pigeons to hang out. Context and perspective are important too.

  10. Doug Brown says:

    MacDonald at least supported enfranchisement of indigenous people, unlike say Laurier. But MacDonald as an English speaking Conservative from Scotland is far easier to paint in the villain role.

    Tommy Douglas wrote a Master’s thesis on eugenics and on the record attributed homosexuality to a psychiatric disorder, yet he is still “The Greatest Canadian”.

    Revisiting history can be used to paint whatever narrative fits the objective. The cynic in me sees political vacuity. Rather than focus on solvable issues like say stopping raw sewage flow into the harbor, or encouraging new housing supply to bring down prices, Victoria’s politicians are wasting time. The Feds keep upping the ante on Reconciliation to deflect from their death spirals on NAFTA and declining business investment.

    • Fred from BC says:

      “Tommy Douglas wrote a Master’s thesis on eugenics and on the record attributed homosexuality to a psychiatric disorder, yet he is still “The Greatest Canadian”.”


      That BASTARD!!!

      His name needs to be erased from Canadian school books immediately.

      • Mark Roseman says:

        Nobody is erasing anything. But neither should we be putting up statues that say he was a shining beacon of goodness and light. Getting rid of the “good guys” and “bad guys” thinking might be a first step towards breaking the crazy polarization which is gripping us all these days.

        • Fred from BC says:

          Tommy Douglas needs to be stripped of the Order of Canada, to start with. Then the universities who granted him honorary degrees need to rescind them and apologize, while denouncing Douglas as the monster that he was. Finally, the foundation bearing his name must either shut down or rename itself.

          (oh, and the CBC needs to apologize for its role in naming him “the Greatest Canadian”, of course)

          “Getting rid of the “good guys” and “bad guys” thinking might be a first step towards breaking the crazy polarization which is gripping us all these days.”

          And yet you still want to vilify Sir John A. McDonald? Fine. Then start convincing people that we need to do away with ALL statues of him, not just the one in Victoria. Was the man a racist or not? Does his statue offend the natives, or not? Is that more important to more Canadians than his status as founder of our country, or does that not matter?

          Then, after all public references to Sir John have dealt with, start on all the other historical Canadian figures. Purge all of them who are found wanting. You can’t have it both ways, Mark… you need to make your true position on this clear.

    • Robert White says:

      Homosexuality was de-pathologised via the American Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in the early 1990s when I was in Experimental Psychology. As a relic of the past it was an embarrassment academically to realize that my colleagues were institutional bigots & racists, and had been since the inception of Experimental Psychology manifested when Professor Emeritus Ivan Pavlov launched the discipline.

      Americans have pathologised everything under the sun and Tommy Douglas can only be accused of reading & disseminating their rhetoric de jour based upon ignorance de jour.


      • Chris says:

        The Americans made him do it? Wow.

        • Robert White says:

          Did you know that the Experimental Psychology courses one has to take in all universities in CANADA in order to attain a degree are in fact sanctioned American Psychological Association programmes? Did you know that the APA controls all the discourse in Experimental Psychology pretty much throughout the entire Western world?

          I’ll bet that Tommy Douglas knew it all too well, Chris.


        • Robert White says:

          One more point that I forgot to mention was that Professor Emeritus Karl Menniger was the sole practitioner in the USA that promoted Homosexuality as being pathological. He alone pathologised Homosexuality to fit with the practice of Western Psychiatry proper, and undoubtedly Douglas was influenced via that school of historical thoughtlessness.


  11. Luke says:

    Thank you for this. Your selection of quotes is very telling and makes a very convincing case.

  12. Gord Tulk says:

    Ridiculous progressive revisionism running amok.

    Time to blot out Riel, Douglas, Woodrow Wilson and countless other lefties too I suppose. Not to mention all of the Greek, Roman and Italian thinkers…

    And pretty much ALL of the pre-Columbian tribe chiefs.

  13. Ronald O'Dowd says:


    I’m conflicted on this one. Makes you really think, either way.

  14. Ronald O'Dowd says:


    I would also ask who were Macdonald’s heroes? That answer would be pretty telling.

    By the way, for Trump it’s Andrew Jackson. Speaks for itself.

  15. McDonald first, Then we”ll move on to Laurier, who arguably was worse. I believe most of the Famous Five advocated eugenics (along with Tommy Douglas).

    Pierre Trudeau also was fairly anti-Semitic in his youth. https://reviewcanada.ca/magazine/2012/01/the-pierre-we-hardly-knew/
    Would he have kept/left his papers for posterity if he knew there would be cultural marxist kangaroo courts.

    In the 1969 White Paper on Indigenous Affairs, Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chretien, not only proposed abolishing the Indian Act, but all treaties, and the elimination of Indian Status.

    I’m more for diversifying monuments, or one has to create a monuments museums for “problematic” monuments, or QR codes (as mentioned above) for being directed to a full history.

  16. jen says:

    At the risk of being called a heretic, and not being informed about the ‘woke truth’, I will respectfully disagree with the premise of removing monuments. Unless the person in question is defined exclusively by his or her bad behaviour and views.

    No doubt, Macdonald made problematic statements and enacted bad policies with long term consequences. However, he was also a significant personality in the forming of Canada.

    Tommy Douglas supported eugenics, and Henri Bourassa and Andre Laurendeau were racist in their youth. Chretien was a cabinet Minister when Pierre Trudeau came out with his infamous white paper. Many ancient greek philosophers, and biblical figures with monuments around the world were staunch supporters of slavery. Mohatma Gandhi made racist statements about africans and made mistakes with Pakistan that have consequences to this day. And on and on this goes. All political systems and societies have elements of tyranny, oppression and evil. If we were to demand moral cleanliness and remove monuments of everyone with distasteful views and policies we would begin to look like China under Mao.

    What I find disturbing about this sudden monuments obsession by post modern ‘progressives’ is that it has a religious like fervour. Years ago, priests in certain parts of Canada forbade books and music from being shown in schools because they were seen as blasphemy. Today cultural warriors are demanding moral and social equity purity in our symbols and history. They believe this will lead the country towards healing between groups, and equality of social outcomes for all- a world where there is no oppression, racism and sexism.

    I am afraid they are going to be proven wrong with more consequential results than expected. This decision by the Victoria mayor, while symbolic and not really tangental, is symptomatic of something much darker in our society. If all of our institutions and history are seen as emblematic of a racist, misogynistic, homophobic patriarchy then what we are saying is that Canada is illegitimate and has no basis to exist at all. If this is what is being presented by progressive parties in Canada then prepare yourselves accordingly.

    We are playing right into the kind of right wing populism practised by Trump. It will lead to PM Andrew Scheer, more Conservative governments in provincial capitals and similar debates to what we see south of the border.

  17. Mezba says:

    To be honest, I don’t mind their statues but I don’t get a say here – it should be those whose forefathers were oppressed etc. Also I don’t mind teaching about him, but they should teach the bad with the good. No British, for example, learns about the evils of Churchill – only that he drove the Germans back.

  18. Mark Roseman says:

    I live a couple blocks away from where that statue used to stand. This was my take, which the local paper published in its ‘letters’ section:

    The statue removal helps publicize a more accurate and broader view of Canada’s history. It sheds light not only on the past, but on the deeply negative effects that past actions still have today.

    Statues celebrate figures from the past based on what we value today. Racism and cultural genocide might have been OK back then, but honouring that won’t help us move forward together.

    A statue is not the historical record. Removing it is a small but positive step toward desperately needed reconciliation of our past wrongs. Time for John to go.

      • Chris says:

        Thirty years from now when there are no statues remaining, and the museums have been cleared out, and the books re-edited, and those teachers of tomorrow have been “correctly” educated, how exactly will people understand their societies, their pasts, and the mistakes and horrors committed? Or will a Utopia of peace and understanding have swept across the land by then?

  19. Mark Roseman says:

    Part of a letter in today’s local paper (not from me):

    I think it is very sad and entirely ironic to see all the non-Aboriginal people running around with their hair on fire about the removal of a statue that represents “our history.”

    I was raised in Victoria and graduated high school here without once hearing anything at all about the history of the Indigenous people who lived all around us. That phrase “our history” is just a dog whistle.

  20. I personally feel that we should model society after one of those pseudo-utopian planets that Kirk and Spock are always finding. You know, the simple white uniforms in those art deco cities were all is equal and our past is just a distant nightmare. Until…..Spock gets hit with those nasty spores!! DAMMIT Spock snap out of it!! (queue Trek fighting music…)

  21. It isn’t without precedent that oppressed people take down symbols of their oppression.

  22. Nestor says:

    Surely the forced sterilizations of indigenous women that occurred in Saskatchewan during Tommy “Mr. Eugenics” Douglas reign as Premier would qualify his contributions to the country to be similarly erased from Canada’s history.

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