Halifax to re-visit controversy over founder Edward Cornwallis
A statue of Edward Cornwallis stands in a Halifax park on Thursday, June 23, 2011. (Andrew Vaughan / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Halifax will again discuss what it might do about sites named for Edward Cornwallis, the city's controversial founder who issued a bounty on the scalps of Mi'kmaq men, women and children.
Council voted narrowly last May against debating municipal landmarks bearing Cornwallis's name, including a street, park and a statue.
But Shawn Cleary, a rookie councillor who was elected last fall, gave notice Tuesday he would be asking council to consider it again at its next meeting.
"I think we're mature enough now as a society to have this kind of discussion. Folks have said, 'Why do you want to take the name of Cornwallis off?' That's not what the motion says. The motion says, let's have a discussion about it," Cleary said Wednesday.
Cornwallis, as governor of Nova Scotia, founded Halifax in 1749 and soon after issued a bounty on Mi'kmaq scalps in response to an attack on colonists. The Mi'kmaq have long called for removal of tributes to Cornwallis, some calling his actions against their ancestors a genocide.
Rebecca Thomas, a Mi'kmaq poet and Halifax's poet laureate, went before council Tuesday with a poem inspired by the councillors who voted down the motion last time, including one who offered that Cornwallis "was not perfect."
"A lack of perfection is a poor excuse to keep Cornwallis enshrined, regardless of his abuse; please, cut him loose," Thomas's poem said. "How can granting us our humanity be any less of a priority than making the donair the official meal of Halifax city."
Cleary said he'd long hoped the issue could be revisited, but Thomas's poem inspired him to do it immediately.
"I have no problem with telling our history -- as long as it's the whole and complete history," he said Wednesday.
"I would like to say, you know what, if you want to leave the statue up, which I'm fine with, let's put some information around the statue that indicates what happened here. It was a race war. The British were trying to annihilate the Mi'kmaq, the Mi'kmaq were trying to annihilate the British for taking their land."
He is seeking a staff report with a recommended public engagement process to discuss "how we commemorate our past and recognize Cornwallis on municipal assets."
The same motion was defeated by an 8-7 vote last year when it was moved by Coun. Waye Mason, but Cleary said three of the councillors who voted no have since left council.
The debate has resonated across Halifax and Nova Scotia.
Halifax's Cornwallis Street Baptist Church, an African Baptist church that dates back to the early 1800s, decided last month to eliminate all references to Cornwallis.
The Halifax Regional School Board voted unanimously to rename Cornwallis Junior High in 2011.
Last year, Premier Stephen McNeil had signs for the Cornwallis River removed out of sensitivity for the nearby Annapolis Valley First Nation.
Daniel Paul, a Mi'kmaq elder and author who has led the movement to remove Cornwallis's name from city monuments, has said the city's founder will continue to be remembered for founding the city but doesn't need to be "celebrated" on buildings, parks or streets.