Cornwallis statue, park and street need to go: Halifax task force
A statue of Edward Cornwallis stands in a Halifax park on Thursday, June 23, 2011. (Andrew Vaughan / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
HALIFAX -- A statue dedicated to Halifax founder Edward Cornwallis should be permanently removed from the public square and a street and park in the city honouring him should be renamed, a task force is recommending.
Public commemoration of Cornwallis, the British officer accused of practising genocide against the local Indigenous population, is incompatible with current values, the task force said in its report made public Friday.
The city had temporarily removed the Cornwallis statue from the downtown park that bears his name in January 2018, pending a review by the task force, a joint initiative of regional council and the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq Chiefs.
The task force recommends that the statue "not be returned, under any circumstances, to a position of public commemoration." Instead it should be kept in storage until it can be displayed in a civic museum created by council, the report said.
It added that Cornwallis Park should be renamed "Peace and Friendship Park" and repurposed for the creation of a performance space.
The task force said Cornwallis Street no longer has its place in Halifax. Instead, it should be renamed New Horizons Street, subject to approval by the congregation of the New Horizons Baptist Church.
"Edward Cornwallis, based in Mi'kma'ki from 1749 to 1752 as British governor of Nova Scotia, had a career characterized by violence directed against non-English peoples, including Mi'kmaq, and Highland Scots," the report says.
"Although his assumptions of racial superiority were not uncommon for a man of his era and social background," it adds, "continued public commemoration of his role is incompatible with current values."
In particular, the task force's review of the historical record led it to conclude that Cornwallis "had a personal ambition to 'root out' Mi'kmaq people" and that his 1749 proclamation offered bounties for the scalps of all Mi'kmaq.
The report also notes the "near-absence" of public Mi'kmaq commemorations across the city, referring to the Indigenous peoples who have occupied Atlantic Canada for thousands of years.
A large part of the task force's recommendations includes identifying ways Nova Scotia's Indigenous peoples can take a greater place in the public sphere.
The Mi'kmaq community, the report continues, should be involved in the naming of new streets and other city assets. It also recommends adding the Mi'kmaq language to more city signage.
There is an important difference between history and commemoration, the task force concludes, adding that community values change over time.
Sometimes, the report notes, "there are occasions when older forms of commemoration no longer fit with the ethical standards of today. To make changes for that reason is not to 'erase' history, but to take a responsible approach to maintaining the integrity of public commemoration."
The reports says the task force members considered a number of options for the statue, including destroying it or melting it down so the bronze could be used to create a sculpture"more in line with current community values."
In the end, it decided that the best place for the statue would be a museum where it could be used for public education about past wrongs. No such museum exists in Halifax, it concluded, recommending that the regional municipality commit to creating one.
The task force report is on the agenda for a council meeting next Tuesday, and city staff are recommending that it be accepted.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 17, 2020.