17 April 2018
The recent removal of Confederate statues in America have sparked controversy and a far-right wing riot in Charlottesville lead to extreme consequences of riots and millions of dollars of damage. Similarly, in Canada, the controversial debate of whether statues of the first Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald’s removal should be undertaken from the public has arisen. Known as a Father of Confederation by many Canadians, yet others view him as an architect of genocide. Yet due to his contributions to nation-building and progressive qualities considering his time period, Macdonald’s name and likeness should remain in public institutions and he should be remembered for his actions.
John A. Macdonald was both a great nation-builder and statesman. In order to achieve his dream of uniting Canada from coast to coast, he “worked steadily at completing the assembling of almost the whole of what is now Canada, adding the vast lands of the Hudson’s Bay Company, Rupert’s Land and the Northwestern Territory, in 1870, British Columbia in 1871, Prince Edward Island in 1873 and, finally, arranging the transfer to Canada by Britain of its huge foothold and claim” (Symons). In his lifetime, Macdonald managed to create the world’s second-largest nation by land mass. Not only that, but he brought together a collection of nations under his government. However, his task became even more difficult as he hoped to reconcile the English and the French-speaking communities of Canada. Macdonald once said, “I have no accord with the desire expressed in some quarters that by any mode whatever there should be an attempt made to oppress the one language or to render it inferior to the other” (Symons). He spoke out against those who intended to restrict the use of French or altogether eliminate it. Despite the cultural differences in this new nation, John A. Macdonald fiercely defended and maintained the view that Canada could have two official languages. Macdonald’s work as the first Prime Minister created a bilingual Canada and ensured his legacy as a statesman.
In spite of John A. Macdonald’s contributions to Canadian confederacy, criticism has arose for his discriminatory policies against Indigenous peoples, and how this reflects negatively on current Canadian values. However, Macdonald did extend a hand to the Indigenous communities and provide help to them. At the time, Macdonald commented that his government had “done all [they] could to put [the Indigenous] on themselves; [they had] done all [they] could to make them work as agriculturists; [they had] done all [they] could, by the supply of cattle, agricultural implements and instruction, to change them from a nomadic to an agricultural life. [They] had very considerable success; [they] had infinitely more success during [their] short period, than the United States […] had during twenty-five years” (Macdonald 1885). Agriculturalism is traditionally a mark of a more advanced society, and also provides a more reliable food source for the Indigenous peoples as well as technological advances. At the time this would have been more than fair, considering how other colonists at the time felt about non-white Canadians, and the natives’ way of living. With these factors in mind, Macdonald was particularly tolerant for his time period and did all that he could under his circumstances.
Macdonald united Canada from coast to coast, but recent claims of racism and Indigenous genocide have prompted people to call for his removal from the public sphere. However, his creation of a new nation and progressiveness for his era make him a figure worth remembering and honouring for decades to come. His dream of a nation bordered by three oceans blue, lives on as an extension of his legacy.