Is the modern preservation of history keeping the triumphs and turmoil of our past from fading from the minds of society? That very question is being hotly debated as the public disputes the use of the name and likeness of Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister and Founding Father, on public institutions across Canada. Advocates for the continued use of his likeness argue that his establishment of Canada as an independent state through the formation of tariffs and the transcontinental highway far outweigh the tragedies that occurred during his time in power. Those who disagree believe his cruel involvement in the founding of the residential school system and biologically racist state regulations make him undeserving of any public attention he may receive by staying in the public sphere. While some argue that Macdonald’s perspectives were in line with the values of his time and thus shouldn’t be juxtaposed to our modern beliefs, due to the lack of importance of his memorial in modern Canada and the implications of his values in today’s society, John A. Macdonald’s likeness should be removed from the public sphere.
When compared to the true underlying issue of justice for those wronged by Macdonald’s political regulations, the mere action of removing his likeness is but a baby step in the arduous process reconciliation to solidify the nation. Action is the very least owed to those hurt during Macdonald’s time in power. The negative impact of the removal of Macdonald’s likeness in Canada would be very little, as a “Sir John A. statue is not Sir John A.” (Gerster 2018). Looking to solve magnanimous issues like reconciliation “with [only] simple solutions- whisking symbols of the past away in the early morning hours” is not only disrespectful to the injustice First Nations in Canada have faced, but akin to putting band-aids over the gaping wounds of the people in the country (Olsen 2018). Due to the impact the removal of Macdonald’s likeness would have as a show of faith and reconciliation towards indigenous peoples in Canada, the first Prime Minister should be removed as an antecedent for future and more meaningful action.
Those in favour of keeping the Founding Father’s name and persona in the public sphere argue that his actions cannot be judged fairly when looking through a more modern and tolerant lens. That being said, knowing the injustice, targeted racism, and Aryan supremacy unique to Macdonald’s political perspective, his actions not only should, but deserve to be re-evaluated by modern standards. Society decides who is memorialized within the public sphere, and thus the lives and legacies of featured historical figures should divulge from the abhorrent acts ascribed to Macdonald’s leadership. John A. Macdonald notably stated on the topic of regulating Chinese influence Canada that “[it] may be right or it may be wrong, it may be prejudice or otherwise, but the prejudice is near universal” only affirming the fact that as a leader in Canada, he ultimately reflected the views of his audience (Hopper 2015). Taking into perspective the vastly different values of modern Canada, Macdonald should no longer be exalted as a leader when his political platform was so rooted in “biological racism in Canadian state formation” and the preservation of the “Aryan character of future British America” amongst other issues so against the diverse and tolerant nature of today’s Canada (Stanley 2014). Macdonald understood the views of his people- and took it one step further. Even when compared to his fellow politicians, Macdonald’s views were particularly severe and focused on the racial preservation of Aryans in Canada (Stanley 2014). The belief that the public is unable to evaluate the first Prime Minister based on modern-day beliefs is unjustified because those honoured and memorialized are appraised using said beliefs. The public cannot in good conscience exalt Macdonald knowing the flawed political platform he stood upon.
Canada is still at odds over the paradox we know as Sir John A. Macdonald and what should become of his likeness within the public sphere. While some exalt him as the founder of our nation and the man responsible for our economic and political independence, others see the ugly side of his platform: the thievery of land and starvation of indigenous peoples and imposition of racist head taxing. Due to the overwhelming negativity and racial bias perpetuated through Macdonald’s political platform when evaluated by modern standards and the need of this event in the resolution of injustice faced by minority groups in Canada, John A. Macdonald should be removed from the public sphere as a show of solidarity to those he wronged. As a nation, there is no way for us to proceed forward until we acknowledge the wrongdoings of the past by historical figures like John A. Macdonald and do what we can as a modern society to resolve them.
Anderson, Rick. “Should Statues of Sir John A. Macdonald Be Removed? No.” Thestar.com, 20 Aug. 2018, www.thestar.com/opinion/contributors/thebigdebate/2018/08/20/should-statues-of-sir-john-a-macdonald-be-removed-no.html
Gerster, Jane. “’Statues Are Not History’: Considering the Removal of Sir John A. Macdonald.” Global News, 12 Aug. 2018, globalnews.ca/news/4380641/does-removing-statues-change-history/
Hopper, Tristin. “Sure, John A. Macdonald Was a Racist, Colonizer and Misogynist – but so Were Most Canadians Back Then.” National Post, 24 Jan. 2015, nationalpost.com/news/canada/sure-john-a-macdonald-was-was-a-racist-colonizer-and-misogynist-but-so-were-most-canadians-back-then
Innes, Robert Alexander. “Don’t Forget John A. Macdonald – But Don’t Honour Him.” The Tyee, The Tyee, 15 Aug. 2018, thetyee.ca/Analysis/2018/08/15/John-A-Macdonald-Reflection/
Macdougall, Brenda. “Naming and Renaming: Confronting Canada’s Past.” Shekon Neechie, 1 Aug. 2018, shekonneechie.ca/2018/08/01/naming-and-renaming-confronting-canadas-past/
Olsen, Adam. “Macdonald Statue Debate Distracting from Reconciliation.” Adam Olsen, MLA, 12 Nov. 2018, adamolsenmla.ca/macdonald-statue-debate-distracting-from-reconciliation/
Stanley, Timothy J. “John A. Macdonald and the Invention of White Supremacy in Canada.” Canadian Issues/Thèmes Canadiens, 2014, pp. 29–32.