Halifax council votes to put Cornwallis name on city property under microscope
Published Tuesday, April 25, 2017 5:33PM ADT Last Updated Wednesday, April 26, 2017 7:35AM ADT
HALIFAX -- In a move Halifax's mayor calls a step toward reconciliation with indigenous people in the municipality, regional council has voted to examine the use of Edward Cornwallis's name on city property.
Mayor Mike Savage says council's decision Tuesday stands by a pledge it made in 2015 to develop a strong working relationship with the city's aboriginal residents based on truth, dignity and mutual respect.
"I am completely convinced this is the right thing to do," Savage said. "If we're going to really live truth and reconciliation, we need to deal with issues like this."
After a lengthy debate, councillors voted 15-1 for a staff report to create an expert panel to weigh in on commemorations of Cornwallis.
The city's founder remains notorious for issuing a bounty on the scalps of Mi'kmaq people in 1749.
Cornwallis Junior High was renamed in 2011, but the Nova Scotia governor's name remains on city parks and streets.
Coun. Shawn Cleary said he put forward the motion after being moved by the words of Halifax's poet laureate on the issue during a previous council meeting.
"This motion is not about re-writing history," Cleary said. "History is written by the victors and our understanding of it is not static, it is dynamic. As we progress as a society, so must our perspectives and our relationships."
A similar proposal put forward by Halifax South Downtown Coun. Waye Mason last year was narrowly defeated 8-7.
Mason said Tuesday that council's failure to act on the issue in the past was "crushing."
"I'm tired of getting emails and phone calls from white men of privilege who say we should not have this discussion," Mason told council. "We are all treaty people. Let's be brave and let's have that discussion."
Before coming to Nova Scotia, Cornwallis played a role in squashing the Jacobite rising of 1745. He suppressed the Scottish rebellion with a campaign of rape, plunder and mass murder.
The British military officer was later named governor of Nova Scotia, where he stayed for three years.
Within months of arriving, Cornwallis and his military council approved an infamous scalping proclamation to "take or destroy the savages."
The decree promised a reward of "ten Guineas for every Indian Micmac taken, or killed, to be paid upon producing such savage taken or his scalp."
Coun. David Hendsbee said this history cannot be changed and that debate over Cornwallis belongs in academia, not at city hall.
"I don't think we need to be dragged into a battleground once again," he said. "History has been made and we cannot change the conditions of how life was back then.
"We can't rewrite it, so why should we revisit it," Hendsbee added. "We can't whitewash history."
But Coun. Richard Zurawski said history is all about the interpretation.
"We make much ado about fact-based decision making," he said. "We should also make empathy a part of that."