The Times, August 17, 2018
The Scottish government has moved to distance itself from the Glasgow-born father of the Canadian nation over his treatment of its indigenous population.
A bronze statue of Sir John A Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister, was toppled in Victoria, British Columbia, last Saturday after officials said it was a “painful reminder of colonial violence”.
Macdonald, whose family emigrated from Scotland in the early 19th century, brokered the deal that established the state 151 years ago but was also behind the Indian Act, which led to 100,000 native children being taken from parents and sent to residential institutions in an effort to remove their “savage” heritage.
Since 2015 the anniversary of his birthday has been celebrated by Sir John A’s Great Canadian Kilt Skate. The Scottish government has been the main sponsor of the annual event, at which Canadian-Scots take to the ice in seven cities wearing tartan and waving saltires attached to ice hockey sticks.
A government spokesman said: “We acknowledge the controversy around Sir John A Macdonald’s legacy and the legitimate concerns expressed by indigenous communities on the commemoration of his life. The views of these communities must be respected, and we will continue discussions with Kilt Skate organisers and indigenous representatives on the branding and purpose of the event before taking a decision in respect of future funding.”
The website for the Kilt Skate, which features the Scottish government and VisitScotland logos, states: “Sir John A’s Great Canadian Kilt Skate is indelibly Scottish and undeniably Canadian. It speaks to the Scottish contribution to Canada’s multicultural heritage.”
Don Cummer, an author who founded the Kilt Skate, said: “He is one of the great contributors to Canadian history, but he did not hold the opinions that are held to be politically correct now. If we start erasing our history we are going to be setting ourselves on a course where we don’t know where we are coming from, so we will have very little idea about where we are going.”
Macdonald has been on Canada’s $10 note since 1971 but will be replaced this year by Viola Desmond, a black activist who refused to leave a whites-only section of a Nova Scotia cinema in 1946.
In Ontario the Kingston Historical Society said that its Sir John A Birthday Dinner had been replaced by a “February Heritage Dinner”. Warren Everett, its president, said: “My personal view about Sir John is that he worked hard to forge a nation, and this is often forgotten in the current debate. He was also a man of his times with the knowledge and judgment of his times. We cannot be insensitive to the pain caused by the decisions of his government about policies affecting indigenous peoples.”
[The foregoing is an article from The Times of London. Don Cummer was interviewed by telephone for the article on Thursday, August 16. Here is the previous blog that Don has written on the Sir John A. controversy. Here is the previous story from September 2017 by The Times quoting Don on the issue.]