Tearing down statues…..


photo by Chandra Joy Kauffmann

They’re talking about taking down statues and/or changing names of schools in the U.S. as well as here in Canada. What are they thinking? We can’t obliterate history by removing these things,  unpleasant as our history may be — and it is. Nor can we use present-ism to judge decisions made long ago. What we do need is to use these reminders to better educate ourselves. It is the teaching of history that has to change.

Let’s face it, the only part of our population we haven’t managed to hurt since our European forefathers hit these shores are possibly white males, and I’m not even sure of that. If we must erase the existence of former leaders, politicians and generals, we’d probably have to eliminate them all.

Who was in charge in 1885 when Canada instituted the Chinese Head Tax? Who made it legal not to allow the Chinese to attend our universities? What about erasing our

Pierre Berton

Author Pierre Berton

well-known and respected Canadian author/historian Pierre Berton, who in his 1970 book “The National Dream”, neglected to even mention the 15,000 Chinese workers who labored (some died) under harsh conditions for very little pay on the project completed in 1881? That railroad was vital to the establishment of our country at the time John A. Macdonald was our Prime Minister.

Furthermore, how can we know what John A. Macdonald was thinking if he did, indeed, approve the use of residential schools? Could he know or foresee the imperfections of our religious institutions? In Australia, the ‘Stolen Generation’ (1910-1970) happened because it was feared the Aboriginals were dying out! The results there were devastating as well.

Sir Robert Borden p:m, 1914

Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden

When the SS Komagata Maru and it’s passengers were refused entry in 1914, some on-board were suspected of being connected to radicals,

Komagata Maru.jpg

SS Komagata Maru

however it seems clear racism was at the heart of the matter. Sir Robert Borden, knighted in 1915, was Canada’s prime minister. (He introduced women’s suffrage into federal elections — I applaud that effort.) Our country honored Borden by using his photo on our $100 bills right until 2016!

How about Immigration Minister Frederick Blair, who during the administration of Prime Minister Mackenzie King, famously declared:

Immigration Minister Frederick Blair

Immigration Minister Frederick Blair

Wm_Lyon_Mackenzie_King, 1942

Prime Minister Mackenzie King

“None is too many.” as a reason in 1939, for our country to turn away the M.S. St. Louis with 902 desperate German Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis. They were sent back to certain death. Should we now denounce Mackenzie King too? (In the Quebec of my youth, there was a quota on the number of Jewish students the universities would accept.)


MS St Louis Jewish refugess desperate to flee Nazi

MS St. Louis

The U.S. also refused the MS St. Louis entry during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency (1933-1945). Should we put aside all of Roosevelt’s accomplishments because of this unfortunate incident? (Hitler, at the time, was delighted.) I’m convinced Roosevelt played a key role in saving us from Fascism after the war.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Enter a caption

I could go on and on and talk about the unfair suffering we caused our Japanese citizens during WW2 and the difficulties the Ukrainians endured in our country, and, and, but if I list every group we oppressed, this would be a book.

Indeed, what have we NOT done to wrong our aboriginals, who certainly have the right to complain about their mistreatment by our governments (note plural). Our native population is definitely entitled to REDRESS in capitals. However, destroying statues and renaming schools will accomplish little. We need to see to it that history is properly taught to our citizens so we know about the unvarnished past of our governments. Let’s focus instead on what is required to repair the results of all the mistakes of the past.

What do you think?


14 thoughts on “Tearing down statues…..

  1. You make good points, as always, Mom, but I have to think that removing certain statues or renaming certain schools could be in order. Here in the US, there is much talk about taking down statues of Confederate heroes in the South. Sure, some people are proud of their Confederate past, but imagine being an African American citizen and having to see such a statue day in an day out, a statue that glorifies someone who would have wanted to keep you in chains as something less than human. I think that would rile me, much as it would rile me to see a statue glorifying Hitler. But, where do you draw the line? And your point that we could likely find something objectionable about nearly every historical figure is certainly valid. Still, if a particular statue or school name is obviously and blatantly offensive to an entire group of people due to the subject being racist or otherwise bigoted, I feel it is worth considering a change.

  2. I think monuments are there to honour individuals as much as to remind us of history. Not everyone, past or present, deserves to be honoured – Cornwallis, for example; offering a bounty on Mi’gmaqs really is beyond the pale. Sir John A I’m not so sure about. He did, after all, manage to keep the U.S. from swallowing up everything between Maine & Alaska; just look where we’d be if he hadn’t! (btw, in case anybody’s wondering, MacDonald school in Vancouver wasn’t named for Sir John A; it was named for William MacD, the tobacco baron.)

  3. Professor Muriel, I enjoyed your latest lecture and feel it is one of your best . I am so glad I chose to attend your history class as I always learn something worthwhile. I feel that we need to start thinking before acting or we will be removing statues and portraits everywhere. Judging people who lived hundreds of years ago by today’s standards is childish and is a slippery slope that ends where? When is your next lecture? Love, Brian

  4. I totally agree with you Muriel. People tend to repeat past mistakes by totally forgetting and obliterating the past. Painful as it may be, the past reminds us and teaches us lessons to smarten up or do things better.

    There’s so much to learn or smarten up from reviewing or looking at what the past has been.

    Huraay for Muriel.

    With fondness and affection,

  5. I applaud your willingness to write on this topic. It can be like stepping into a buzzsaw, but we should be able to discuss such controversies. When I was teaching, we visited Washington, D.C., and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania with class groups. We did use the monuments and statues as teaching aids. But I think we need to think, not only about what the historical figure did/stood for, but also about why some of the statues were built and the circumstances under which some places and buildings were named. We should also consider the feelings of those who find these statues and names a terrible insult. I happen to admire some things about Robert E. Lee, for example, and have read about his struggle to decide what to do after secession. (He was offered command of both sides in the conflict.) He said he chose the Confederacy because he felt a greater loyalty to his state than to the States, a common feeling in those times. Do I feel his statues should be torn down? Yes.
    As for John A. and schools named for him, I don’t think the “man of his time” argument works. The students and teachers should be able to look to the school namesake as someone to emulate in THESE times. That person doesn’t have to be perfect, but he or she should embody values that make us proud. Or you could do what my old district did and name the schools geographically, Pine Avenue, Northeastern, Western, etc. How about Integrity Elementary? I hope I don’t live to see a Donald Trump Middle School.

    • Thank you Judy: For reading this post and giving it so much thought. Your points are well taken and I’m delighted that others, especially knowledgeable people like you, are willing to share their opinions on this issue. Love, Muriel

  6. Muriel,
    Thank you for your very informative essay. Excellent point about the need for redress of past and present harms.

    • And thank you for caring Judy: Friends and readers are either in total agreement or very opposed to my post.
      Perhaps what we need are some statues or schools named for worthy Aboriginal leaders. Let’s salute them for a change. Cheers, Muriel

  7. Hi Muriel,
    Here’s the coffee drinker again! You have certainly chosen a difficult issue this time. Congratulations! How did you feel when the American troops helped the Iraquis to topple the statue of Saddam Husein? I confess it didn’t bother me one little bit. It was an outrageous size for one thing! I think there’s no general principle to follow, it’s case by case. I think Susan makes a very valid point: no-one should have to walk past a statue glorifying their persecutor every day even if in some respects he was OK. But I think there are cases where an honest objectively written tablet at the base of a statue could be enough, for example in the case of Admiral Nelson in Trafalgar Square in London there could be an acknowledgement that he supported the slave trade, rather than removing the statue (it’s a long way up on top of a column!)

    • Hi Alan: Although I didn’t care about Saddam Hussein’s statue, I was very opposed to the U.S. invasion of Iraq altogether, and haven’t changed my mind on it. I was thrilled our Prime Minister refused to join the U.S. at the time and sent him a postcard to tell him so. Stay well and good luck with your country’s exit. Cheers, Muriel

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