Councillor Jim Neill talks Sir John A. Macdonald statue in City Park

‘Symbolism is a powerful thing, and we need to recognize it’

Kingston City Councillor speaks to The Journal about the potential removal of local statue.
Credit: 
Journal File Photo

On Jun. 16, Kingston City Council will host a meeting to discuss the demands from a change.org petition, submitted to the City Clerks’ Department, for the removal of the Sir John A. Macdonald statue at City Park. The petition had approximately 740 signatures upon submission.

Ahead of the meeting, The Journal spoke with Councillor Jim Neill, who represents Kingston’s Williamsville district, about the implications of removing the statue of Macdonald in City Park.

“I would say everyone [city councillors] are overwhelmingly in favor of taking the statue down so far,” Neill said.

Widely regarded as Macdonald’s hometown, Kingston is where Macdonald grew up and practiced law for several years before Confederation.

“We call ourselves the first capital of Canada. Until the truth about Sir John A. Macdonald came out—people really embraced him,” Neill explained. “We still have a number of people who embraced the idea of us being the first capital, and Sir John A. being the first prime minister of Canada.”

Neill said it’s important, however, that the nation begin to recognize the atrocities Macdonald committed as Canada’s first prime minister.

Macdonald played an influential role in establishing Canada’s residential school system.

“Now that new evidence and new information has come forward, we can’t purge the idea that Sir John A. Macdonald is from Kingston, but we need to deal with the historical reality that we see today,” Neill said. “And that’s why I support us taking down the statue.”

The Councillor added that, while discourse about keeping the statue up and taking it down has been controversial, it’s important to recognize all of history’s facts rather than attempt to ignore or rewrite them.

“You don’t get to please everybody, but you get to choose who your enemies are,” Neill said of the upcoming Jun. 16 meeting.

“You’re going to anger people, but I think the right decision is to recognize the grievances of First Nations.”

The City has released its agenda for Wednesday's meeting. Councillors will be given two options in the decision regarding the statue of Macdonald in City Park.

The first option is for the statue to “remain in place” as the Sir John A. Macdonald History and Legacy Working Group continue to develop “plaques/panels to be placed near the statue” to depict an accurate history and legacy.

The second option would see the statue “be removed within a week.”

Neill said that the removal of the statue wouldn’t mean the immediate erasure of history. Instead, he explained, many council members have suggested the statue be moved elsewhere.

“The City could donate the statue to the national historic sites, so people who want to see it can still see it. That is a sensible suggestion,” he said.

“The reality is Canada has attempted a cultural assimilation, and it is an act of genocide. Symbolism is a very powerful thing, and we need to recognize that.”

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