Tearing Down Statues
Let's face it - by progressive standards - a lot of the people honored with public statuary were pretty bad people.
They thought it normal to invest in slaves as like a prudent investment for their retirement even if they didn't personally own slaves.
And many of them did actually own slaves.
John A MacDonald, Canada's 'Father of Confederation' thought it was a good idea to assimilate First Nations people (back when they were called Indians) into White Society.
He set up a system of residential schools run by churches and tore kids from their families to send them there.
Literally thousands of children died in those schools and the whole thing was hidden. They were buried in unmarked graves and their families were not notified. A major horror.
Must say - John A isn't alone in being responsible for that horror. And it wasn't just a horror of kids getting sick and dying because of unsanitary conditions.
It was also a horror of pedophile priests preying on a helpless population and killing the uppity ones. I mean horror.
There are statues of him all over Canada honoring him for being the Father of Confederation. Lots of people with contemporary sensibilities don't like him being honored. They want the statues removed. Many have been vandalized and many have been removed after due process. And some have been hauled down by crowds of protestors without permission.
Gotta say - I'm of very mixed minds about that - On the one hand I'm like YES!! - go for it!!! - On the other hand I'm like NO! NO! NO! - please stop!!!
I had an up close experience of that this week.
I live in an area of Vancouver called Gastown. It's sort of where the first downtown area in Vancouver long ago. Now it's a tourist district with lots of 'heritage' buildings and fake brick streets.
Back in the day it was lit by gas streetlights - hence the name Gastown (I think) A tavern owner named Jack Deighton was a community leader then - a statue of him was erected at one end of Gastown when it was reconfigured by the city as a :heritage area" instead of a "down and out area" next door to skid row to attract tourists from cruise ships.
There was no movement at his time to set up a statue of him because his community thought he was such a great guy.
It was commissioned (as best I know) by some businessmen who were trying to revitalize Gastown in the late 1960s and made by sculptor Vern Simpson.
It was set up without permission on Friday, Feb. 13, 1970 and torn down on Feb. 14, 2022.
Well - Jack Deighton married young girls from the Squamish Nation. By young I mean 12. When he was 40 or older First one died after a couple of years (and I don't know why) Second one died at 90, long after Jack died. She was interviewed about him in 1948. She thought he was a big good man.
Times have changed.
It's no longer acceptable for rich white guys to marry First Nations kids.
Pedophilia is abhorred now as well.
First Nations women continue to be murdered and disappear.
This being the year that thousands of unmarked graves of First Nations kids were being found outside of former residential schools for further context.
The protest that tore down the statue was a march commemorating and protesting those missing women. They tore it down and then covered it in red handprints and splashed the ground with red paint.
The aftermath was quite dramatic.
I talked to several friends about tearing down statues.
They didn't like the idea. I don't either.
There were various reasons for the dislike.
One reason was that it was perceived as trying to erase history. The protestors had the view (I think) that they were removing an object honoring a dishonorable past. That is, removing it's message of honor from the present.
But contrary to that is the idea that, if we forget our history then we will repeat it.
One idea that everyone likes is that controversial statues like that need to be displayed along with other things that provide context.
That is, install plaques giving commentary and other art to change the context.
But who gets to decide what the commentary should be or what other art?
And a part of the context is that nobody trusts the state to be giving messages like that.
Given the event, I thought that the toppled statue spattered with paint was a very dramatic piece of public art that was created by the public that seemed to me to express the historic moment better than any plaque.
I thought it should have been preserved just as it was. Alas - it was not to be.
When I went past the site the next day the statue was gone and the paint was all cleaned away.
What do you think?