Mark Sir John A.

While it’s inappropriate to celebrate the bicentennial of Sir John A. Macdonald’s birth, the date still needs to be marked as a critical event in Canada’s history.

With the 200th anniversary of Macdonald’s birthday set for Jan. 11, how the date should be celebrated has become subject to local debate.

Kingston’s attraction as a tourist destination is partially predicated on the city’s identity as Macdonald’s hometown. As a result, Canada’s first prime minister is often idealized and celebrated, while the episodes of racism and oppression that occurred throughout his tenure are omitted — in particular, those towards Canada’s Indigenous and Chinese populations.

As a city that resides on Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee territory, Kingston can’t continue to ignore certain parts of Macdonald’s past. Holding a nationalistic celebration of his birthday would effectively exclude members of the population who he mistreated as prime minister.

There’s often a moral dichotomy in how historical figures are viewed; they’re painted and remembered as either heroes or villains. But no political figure has ever been unanimously loved or opposed.

A more holistic, critical understanding of Macdonald as an individual and his impact on history — the good and the bad — is needed, rather than celebrations and denunciations.

Macdonald’s bicentennial is a great opportunity to have an important conversation on how Canada approaches its history — particularly, the subjugation and mistreatment of certain peoples.

For this reason, Macdonald’s birth should still be marked in Kingston, to ensure that we don’t attempt to ignore the darker parts of our history, but instead continue the dialogue.

Journal Editorial Board

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