Radio interview: Sir John A.'s reputation is at stake!

Revisiting the controversy of Sir John A. Macdonald

Interview with Glen Williams, author of "Sir John 'Aryan' Macdonald Revisited" in The Dorchester Review, Vol. 8, No. 2, Autumn/Winter 2018, pp. 3-10.

For most of Canada’s history, Sir John A Macdonald has been revered as the father of Confederation, the man who in large part created the country out of disparate British colonies.

In recent years, his reputation has come under fire with claims of racism and especially by Indigenous groups and others for his having established the disastrous “residential school system”.

As the anniversary of our first Prime Minister’s birth approaches on January 11th,  we speak to Glen Williams (PhD), author and professor emeritus of political Science, Carleton University, Ottawa.  He recently penned an in-depth analysis of the man in the prestigious Dorchester Review magazine.

Williams points out that both Macdonald and his legacy are much more complex than many would like to believe, or would care to take the time to explore.

He says many critics of today see themselves as virtuous compared to the past, and are possibly seek to imagine themselves as being more virtuous by criticising the actions of historical figures which would not meet today’s ethical standards.

In the past few years, vandals have attacked statues of Macdonald, in at least one case a statue has been removed from public display to placate criticism. There have been calls as well to remove his name from public buildings and a literary organisation has removed his name from one of their prizes as well.

Williams, and a few other historians, say this action of “removal” is not productive. What Canada is today is the result of the actions and decisions of our past leaders and while some decisions were bad, others helped shape the very good aspects of what we are today.

As we near the anniversary of the birth of our first Prime Minister, Williams says a more balanced analysis of Macdonald, and other historical leaders legacies, is a better way to understand the past. Expunging their names and statues from public spaces is counterproductive in understanding our wider history and how Canada has arrived at the fortunate position it is in today.

See original story at Radio Canada International

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  • Sandra B. Julian on

    Dear Dorchester,
    The municipal Council of my city, Victoria BC, last August took down a statue of John A. Macdonald from in front of City Hall. They spirited it away at dawn, from behind a black shroud, without public consultation, because some Indigenous citizens said they objected to having to walk past it when entering City Hall. Outrage followed among the majority, who objected both to censoring parts of the past and to the high-handed way in which the decision to remove Sir John was made.
    Seven months on, the mayor is asking the public where they would like to see the statue re-erected, presumably in some place considered “non-offensive”. The ransom for its return, however, will be accepting a “plaque” to go with it which will re-tell the “truth” about Macdonald.
    The statue-snatch then was only the Trojan Horse in this ideological war; the warriors will get inside the public decision-making process by means of “recontextualization”, a sinister (and clumsy) expression. Indigenous leaders and anti-colonial history profs will be selected to decide on the wording on the new plaque; non-ideological historians need not apply.

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