Daniel Francis

Reading the National Narrative

Debating Sir John A.

Aug 15, 2018

Now that Environment Minister Catherine McKenna has added her voice to the debate about the statue of Sir John A. I guess it's time for me to add mine.

Let's look at some of the language Minister McKenna, and lots of other people, use to frame the issue. First of all she says that the statue is being "torn down." No it isn't. It is being removed from its original site outside Victoria City Hall and relocated somewhere else. This seems to me important. The location of the statue lent it some sort of official imprimatur that a more neutral location would not.

"You can't erase history," says Minister McKenna. First of all one cannot resist pointing out that if anyone has been "erased" from history in this country it has been the Indigenous people whose children were taken from them along with their land and their culture. For the rest of us to talk about "erasure?" Well, it seems as if we are not really hearing what Indigenous people are saying to us.

Secondly, as many others have pointed out, history and statues of prominent historical figures are not the same thing. Statues don't really "tell stories." Statues commemorate, and they commemorate a particular version of the past. In the case of Sir John A. that version and his role in it are under revision. I don't see any reason why our public commemorative practices should not be revised as well. This is not "erasure." Sir John A. remains a part of our history, and our past, regardless of how many statues there are of him.

Minister McKenna, again along with many others, would like the statue to become a teachable moment. But isn't that the role of schools, and museums? Statues imply veneration; they are supposed to stand for the best of us. When Minister McKenna says that "it's important that we recognize our history -- the good and the bad" she gets no argument from me but she is being a bit ingenuous. We don't raise statues to the bad. By its nature the statue of Sir John implies that he represents "the good." But obviously not to the First Nations, and it makes perfect sense to me that Victoria City Council has taken the step that it did.