City of Kingston hosts Sir John A. 360°Panel Discussion

Three renowned historians and educators discuss the conflicting legacies of Sir John A. Macdonald

City hosted panel discussion on John A. Macdonald legacy Tuesday night.

As part of Kingston’s Your Stories, Our Histories project, the City hosted an open panel discussion about Canada’s first prime minister. 

The three-person panel was held at the Grand Theatre this past Tuesday evening, and was open to all city residents and Queen’s students. The event was hosted as a forum for open discussion about differing perspectives on Sir John A. Macdonald. Nearly 500 people attended.

Bob Watts, adjunct professor in the School of Policy Studies at Queen’s and former interim executive director of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, moderated the discussion.

Over the course of two hours, the panelists and the audience discussed the differing legacies of Canada’s founding figure, the controversies of erecting statues of Sir. John A. Macdonald, and active next steps for both Kingston and Canada.

The panel’s first speaker, Christopher Moore, is the winner of two Governor General’s Literary Awards for his work in Canadian History. He cautioned Kingston that past actions could not be undone by removing statues or monuments, and only served to “bury the evidence”.

“Macdonald is and will remain a central part of Canadian history, and even the idea of Canada,” he told the audience. “It’s not MacDonald’s statues we need to confront. It’s which side of his legacy that we today, Kingston and Canada, choose to follow.”

The second speaker of the evening, Lee Maracle, is a recipient of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal and Officer of the Order of Canada.

“I don’t like Sir John A. Macdonald”, she remarked to the audience, describing him as a “drunken sot” who had dismantled the homes and traditions of her people.

Maracle, however, shared Moore’s stance against removing his statues, instead recommending to “change the plaque[s]” to include both legacies.

“Let’s seek the truth,” she said. “He’s not one thing.”

The panel’s final speaker was Charlotte Gray, a distinguished member of the Order of Canada and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

Like the other panelists, she warned against black-and-white judgements about history’s characters, warning that the debate around Sir John A. Macdonald is “an unfinished discussion.”

“We don’t know our history,” she said. “We can only come to terms with what has happened in this country if we actually take the time to explore it.”

Following the panel discussion was a question and answer period from members of the audience.

Colin Wiginton, cultural director with the City of Kingston, said that he hoped the evening’s conversation would open up the discussion of the city and Canada’s history not only for current residents but also future visitors to the community.

Gray, who was closely involved in the development of the Canadian Museum of History, closed off the evening’s final comments from the panelists.

“A lot of our conversation about Sir John A. Macdonald reflects [a] continuing development in terms of what our standards are for Canada,” she said. “There isn’t one story, there isn’t one narrative, but this is one country.”

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