WARMINGTON: Legacy of Canada’s first PM cancelled by a crane

Sir John A. Macdonald statue removed from Kingston park where it stood for 126 years

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KINGSTON — Sir John A. Macdonald stood proudly in Canada’s original capital for 126 years.

The statue had been in City Park downtown since it was erected in 1895 to commemorate Canada’s first prime minister who served from 1867 until 1873 and again from 1878 until 1891.

It is not there anymore.

Not because protesters ripped it down like the recent trend. This was taken down by a city crew after city council voted to move on from this statue. Just like that 154 years of Canadian history found itself on the other end of a removal crane with ropes and cables that many commented looked like a noose.

In no time the father of Confederation was gone.

“It’s a very sad day,” said retired Major Gord Ohlke, who was among the handful of supporters in the park early Friday saying goodbye. “It reminded me of the kinds of things I saw in Afghanistan.”

Emotions in the crowd were high as workers from Heritage Grade removed the statue of Sir John A. Macdonald from the pedestal in City Park and place it on a flatbed in Kingston, Ont. on Friday, June. 18, 2021.
Emotions in the crowd were high as workers from Heritage Grade removed the statue of Sir John A. Macdonald from the pedestal in City Park and place it on a flatbed in Kingston, Ont. on Friday, June. 18, 2021. Photo by Julia McKay /The Kingston Whig-Standard/Postmedia Network

He served two tours Afghanistan with the Canadian army and noted that political enemies there were known to be strung up by cranes. He knows it’s a statue but it still looked and felt like a political execution

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It was a surreal moment watching the likeness be pulled from its base as supporter Doug Green played the bagpipes that for a moment drowned out those singing, “Na, na, na, hey, hey, hey, goodbye.”

There was a real mix of views here. Some were sombre and nostalgic. Several dozen representing the country’s indigenous community were cheering, singing, drumming and dancing.

Citing the residential school tragedy, the recent discovery of 215 buried children in Kamloops, B.C and colonialism, protesters were delighted.

“I think its a big step for the indigenous community … and a really big step towards reconciliation and redemption, especially toward children,” said Dakota Oliver.

“I hope to see it (happen) a lot more,” her friend Ziibi Lovelace added.

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  1. The Sir John A. MacDonald statute has been boarded up since being vandalized during a protest at Queen's Park on Aug. 31 of 2020. It now has three plaques on it explaining why it is boarded and what might be done in the future on Friday, March 5, 2021.

    WARMINGTON: Has entombed Sir John A. Macdonald already been cancelled in Ontario?

  2. Protesters vandalized a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald at Queens Park on July 18, 2020.

    BONOKOSKI: The movement to defend Sir John A. Macdonald’s legacy

  3. A person stands on a plinth after the defaced statue of Egerton Ryerson, considered an architect of Canada's residential indigenous school system, lies on the pavement after being toppled following a protest at Ryerson University in Toronto, Ontario, Canada June 6, 2021.

    BONOKOSKI: Era-washing history never the answer

This is the thing with taking down such a longstanding statue and such a historic name. Such moves don’t stop here. What’s next? Who’s next? When’s the changing of history going to stop? There’s nothing wrong with pointing out problems from the past, but erasing historical figures is not going to heal anything.

There has got to be a better way to do this.

For many this statue removal is a symbol of the end of Canada as it once understood itself to be.

“It’s an act of vandalism and a soft act of terrorism,” said Gord. “City council caved to a vague threat … A bunch of craven cowards.”

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The only councillor to not vote for taking down the statue was Jeff McLaren who told the Sun, “We missed an opportunity to come together” and use it as a chance to “work toward a better society.”

Added McLaren: “I am fearful” this will not help gain reconciliation but “further divide people.”

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Interestingly, toppling the statue was more difficult than crews thought it would be and it took several hours longer than expected. But the stubborn statue of the stubborn former prime minister was just as much on display at the city storage shed later as it would not easily get through the door. Extra thought and engineering was brought into effectively take the one-time pride of Kingston and stick him in with the stuff waiting to go to the dumpster.

One aspect of this where that could come to light is on what happens to the statue now. It has been reported it will eventually find a home at the Macdonald burial site at the Cataraqui Cemetery, but McLaren said there’s much more discussion that needs to happen before this occurs. This is far from settled.

“The cemetery is private and I don’t know if this statue will end up there or remain in storage,” said McLaren.

Time will tell.

What we do know is Sir John Macdonald’s statue is no longer where it has stood since four years before the Boer War.

jwarmington@postmedia.com

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