confederate statues

It's time for these statues of famous racist people in Canada to be taken down

Anti-racist protests have been ongoing throughout North America and Europe in recent days following the death of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis on May 25, and some activists have actually managed to topple statues of historical figures who were known to be racist. 

In Bristol, England, for example, protesters successfully took down the statue of Edward Colston — a notorious slave trader from the 1600s — and threw it in a river. 

And in Philadelphia, the city took it upon itself to remove the statue of former mayor Frank Rizzo, who opposed desegregation in schools and is known for engaging in police brutality against African Americans and gay people during his time as police commissioner in the '60s and '70s.

But while Europe and the U.S. are undoubtedly riddled with historical statues of controversial figures who likely shouldn't be lauded as heroes in the 21st century, Canada too has a few racist statues of our own. 

The very name of Ryerson University in Toronto is a prime example, and the fact that the statue of Egerton Ryerson — who the school is named after — still stands on the school's campus has been a point of controversy for some time. 

Ryerson was a Methodist minister, teacher, politician and education advocate in Ontario. But he was also a key architect in the design of the residential school system, which was used to oppress, assimilate and abuse Indigenous people up until the '90s.

Many have tried to convince the school to change its name and remove the statue, but in 2018 the university decided to instead install a plaque to contextualize the statue.

"This plaque serves as a reminder of Ryerson University's commitment to moving forward in the spirit of truth and reconciliation. Egerton Ryerson is widely known for his contributions to Ontario's public educational system. As Chief Superintendent of Education, Ryerson's recommendations were instrumental in the design and implementation of the Indian Residential School System," the plaque reads. 

"In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission reported that children in the schools were subjected to unthinkable abuse and neglect, to medical experimentation, punishment for the practice of cultures or languages and death. The aim of the Residential School System was cultural genocide."

Another example of a racist statue in Canada is the Samuel de Champlain monument in Orillia, Ontario.

The statue originally showed Champlain —  who is known to be the first white man to discover Canada (Indigenous people were already living here) — with two Indigenous people looking up to a Jesuit priest on one side and two more looking up at a fur trader on the other. 

The monument was also accompanied by a plaque that said it was meant to commemorate "the advent into Ontario of the white race."

The statue was removed in 2019 to be repaired and reconstructed, but many called for it to be taken down permanently. 

Parks Canada eventually said they would reinstall Champlain's statue, but the bronze portrayals of the Indigenous people, Jesuit priest and fur trader would be removed entirely. They also said the plaque would be updated.

Meanwhile, in Regina, Saskatchewan, the last public sculpture in a major Western Canadian city of John A. Macdonald —  Canada's first prime minister — stands in Victoria Park. A plaque accompanying the memorial reads "John A. Macdonald, Father of Confederation."

The statue has been vandalized several times as many have pointed out Macdonald's assimilationist policies toward Indigenous people and his racist views of Asian immigrants. 

But the city's mayor has defended the monument's historical significance several times, at times accusing those who've called for its removal of trying  "to erase history."

A similar statue in Victoria, B.C. was removed from City Hall in back in 2018.

A handful of other statues portraying racist historical figures have also been removed from Canadian soil in recent years, including one depicting Jefferson Davis (a president of the Confederate States of America) in Montreal and another in New Wesminster, B.C. portraying Matthew Baillie Begbie, a judge who who hanged six chiefs of Tsilhqot'in nations after they fought back against colonizers on their land.

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