Hands Off My History Protest in Ottawa by Marlene Black

Published October 1, 2018

Marlene Black

The beautiful afternoon spent at Andrew Haydon Park in Ottawa, on Sunday September 9 proved to be the ideal setting for a group of citizens who had gathered to protest the treatment of Sir John A. MacDonald’s statue.

On August 11, 2018, the statue of Canada’s first prime minister was taken down from the front steps of Victoria’s city hall after the city council voted in favour of the removal, as part of reconciliation efforts with local Indigenous communities. Mayor Lisa Helps said Macdonald was a polarizing figure for First Nations peoples because of his role in the establishment of residential schools. 

The plan to remove the statue came after year-long discussions with two local First Nations who argued the statue has become a painful reminder of colonialism. But it has also ignited a debate about whether historical figures should be judged through a modern lens, and how to weigh abuses against Macdonald’s role in shaping the country. “He brought together the colonies to make them stronger and created a country,” said Robin McKee, chair of Hamilton’s Sir John A. Macdonald Society. “I don’t know of any man that has created a country as strong and as good as Canada.”

A lot of people were very unhappy with the erasing of our history, no matter how painful and a protest was born. Guy Annable and Beth Trudeau set the stage for the afternoon gathering with several well-known speakers and a hot dog/hamburger/sausage barbeque for all to enjoy. Ron Barr was the MC for the event which started just after 3 pm. First up to speak was Bob Plamandon, author and historian. He has written several books including Blue Thunder. He detailed the difficulties that arise when trying to erase history especially when Sir John A. MacDonald has up until recently, been hailed as a great Prime Minister. The Sir John A. MacDonald Parkway in Ottawa replaced the old name of the Ottawa River Parkway. He was chosen to be the face on a one cent stamp. As well, he appears on Canadian ten-dollar notes printed between 1971 and 2018, In 2015, the Royal Canadian Mint featured Macdonald’s face on the Canadian two dollar coin, the Toonie, to celebrate his 200th birthday. Bob discussed the difficulties that Sir John A. faced with the residential schools but felt that despite Canada being very racist at that time, Mr. MacDonald did not fall into that category and tried to find solutions that might help the ‘Indians’ who seemed to have a hard life even finding food when the buffalo were disappearing. At that time it was felt that giving them an education would help them although removing them without parental consent was not a good thing. He wondered at MacDonald being centered out when there were 18 Prime Ministers after MacDonald before the residential schools were closed.

Some of Macdonald’s greatest achievements were building and guiding a successful national government for the new Dominion and completing the railway across Canada.

John Robson was up next and talked about learning from history rather than trying to reconstruct it. We can come to terms with our history, and regret some of the past but that doesn’t take away from the fact that Canada is a great country. He said that our country had all sorts of horrors done on people by all races including the native Indians whose history is full of the battles and fights among themselves as well as the terrible treatment of other humans. No culture seems to be immune from behaviours that we are not proud of. We will find bad things happened all through our history yet we should not try to erase it because it is uncomfortable, rather learn from it so as not to repeat past mistakes.

Jack MacLaren, Mike Lalonde (Federal Conservative candidate for Ottawa west Nepean) and Charles Ficner all rounded out the event with talks of freedom and the great country that we live in. Unlike so many countries around the world today, we are free to live and work as we choose and free to hold a rally criticizing a government action without looking over our shoulders in fear for our lives. This is Canada, not perfect but the best we’ve got.

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