I wrote this letter to the Editor of the Kingston Whig-Standard, shortly after a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald was taken down:
There are two sides to every story. Always.
The first president of the United States, George Washington, owned slaves, as did the guy who drafted their Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson. But scholars have decided the good they did outdid the bad so the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial remain in good standing (literally).
Sir John A. Macdonald was no saint when it came to the treatment of native peoples. But neither was another contemporary politician to our south, Abraham Lincoln, considered a saint, by some. His administration, in 1863, forced the Navajo Indians and other tribes who were just minding their own business to abandon their homes and property in western New Mexico and eastern Arizona and walk 725 kilometres to a reservation in central New Mexico. Food was rationed and prayer in their own language forbidden, among other indignities. Wood for fuel was withheld in winter. Thousands died. But ending slavery apparently trumped genocide and the Lincoln Memorial today continues to stand strong and proud.
That is not meant to excuse anything Macdonald allegedly did. But it does show he wasn’t alone in his attitudes. And he does have a few positives. He’s the Father of Confederation (there were a bunch of other politicians around, but he was The Guy), the first prime minister of Canada, builder of the Canadian Pacific Railroad and so-on. (Of course, he didn’t build that railroad, others did; just as the churches – particularly the Roman Catholic Church – turned what might have been a positive vision into living hells.)
He’s not around now, so we can’t ask him what he really had in mind. But what a shame that the city council of his hometown didn’t take the time and make the effort to do the research necessary to explain or defend the city’s most famous resident’s actions instead of falling into line with the contemporary narrative that may or may not be correct.
Instead, down came a monument that has been standing in City Park for 126 years. It won’t stop there, either. Sir John A. Macdonald Blvd. will have to be be renamed, all signs to Bellevue House will be taken down and all the little plaques that dot the city will be removed. Just think, before you know it, Kingston will be cleansed, wiped clean of anything having to do with Sir John.
Your council has missed the point, of course. Instead of making sure this never, ever happens again by working to unify people to move forward together, they’ve driven wedges. Short thinking by short thinkers, with little sense of history.