Calls to remove statues linked to colonialism and slavery grow louder
HALIFAX -- Statues of historical figures connected to colonialism and slavery have been removed in countries around the world over the past week.
In the U.S., a statue of confederate president Jefferson Davis was toppled, while monuments to men like Edward Colston and King Leopold the II are no longer standing in England and Belgium.
Mi'kmaq elder Daniel Paul fought for over 30 years for the removal of a statue of Halifax's founder, Edward Cornwallis.
“When you have an individual that makes an attempt to exterminate the Indigenous population of a piece of land, I think, at that point, society in general has to stop honouring a person of that caliber,” says Paul.
The statue of Cornwallis was removed from a Halifax park in 2018 and remains in city storage.
Halifax Regional Council created a committee to look into what to do with the statue, as well as the park and street named after Cornwallis.
Paul is a member of that committee and says he would like to see the park renamed Peace and Friendship Park. He thinks the street could be renamed New Horizon Street, after the new name for the former Cornwallis Church.
Across Canada, there's a similar call for action on statues and public institutions that honour the country's first prime minister, Sir John A. MacDonald, who is considered the architect of the residential school system and other offences against Indigenous Canadians.
Halifax historian Leo Deveau says removing statues and renaming spaces honouring controversial figures is a slippery slope.
“I just don't think taking statues down is going to solve any of this. In fact, those statues can become an opportunity to educate and inform a broader narrative for our history,” says Deveau.
The debate has extended to Canadian Universities, including McGill, Ryerson, Wilfrid Laurier, and Dalhousie University.
“When these institutions were named after so and so, a broad discussion didn't ensue. It came from someone, maybe a member of the family or the legislature, that said ‘OK, let’s name this place after Dalhousie or Ryerson.' Now we are in a moment where these discussions are crucial,” says Afua Cooper, a professor at Dalhousie University.
Cooper worked for three years as the chair on a report that examined Lord Dalhousie's history.
“We did the research around Lord Dalhousie's relationship with race and slavery. We had discussion about changing the name of the university, around naming and renaming streets around Dalhousie University,” says Cooper.
Cooper says the report concluded the money needed to rename the university would be better spent on education and scholarships for African Canadian students. However, she says she is happy this important discussion is continuing around the world.