Indigenous people and their supporters cheered in celebration Friday morning as a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald was removed from its stone pedestal in his eastern Ontario hometown.
Construction crews began the work of taking down the two-tonne statue of Canada's first prime minister from its perch at City Park in Kingston, Ont. — where it has stood since 1895 — in the early hours of the morning. Around 8:45 a.m., a crane lifted the statue and lowered it to the ground.
Kingston council voted 12-1 after a long meeting Wednesday to move the statue to nearby Cataraqui Cemetery, where the Father of Confederation is buried, after many in the community objected to its presence because of Macdonald's role in the residential school system.
A group of Indigenous-led activists camped out in the park for several days and said they would stay there until the monument was taken down.
The abuses of that system and the harm caused to Indigenous people re-emerged in the spotlight recently following the the preliminary discovery of what are believed to be the unmarked burial sites of children's remains adjacent to a formal residential school in Kamloops, B.C.
"We want that statue taken down and put somewhere where the First Nations people, when they come into Kingston … don't have to be reminded of what has happened to our people because of the residential schools," said Lisa Cadue, a Haudonesoonee woman. She said she had been at the park for nine days straight protesting against the statue.
"This man introduced it to our territories."
The decision to remove the statue and the debate over Macdonald's legacy have both deeply divided the community.
2 veterans briefly protested removal
The CBC's Travis Dhanraj said there was a mix of emotions among the approximately 100 people at the site.
Indigenous-led activists banged drums and sang songs in the lead up to the statue's removal.
But there were also people unhappy with the decision, some of whom told CBC the move is a form of "cancel culture" that seeks to judge and erase historical figures based on present-day standards.
Two veterans carrying Canadian flags briefly stood in front of the statue to block construction equipment and objected to its removal. They stepped back after speaking with police.
"We're a young country with not too many national monuments and this is one that looms large," said Gordon Ohlke, one of the veterans.
"It's been a part of Kingston for many, many years. And my family's been here for many, many years. It's part of me that they're tearing down."
Jeff McLaren, the lone Kingston city councillor who voted against the statue's relocation, said the decision will further divide the community.
"I'm feeling right now like we lost an opportunity to come together," said McLaren.
"When we take away something from some people that want to honour Sir John A. as our first prime minister, we're pitting people against people."
The statue will go into storage for the time being, according to the city.
Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson has said that the decision about where the statue will ultimately go will be made in consultation with Indigenous peoples in the area.
A report on options for both it and its former City Park site is expected to go to council Aug. 10.