April 17, 2018
Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister, has been a major subject of controversy as of late. He united Canada as a single nation separate from America that went from sea to sea, but committed genocide against the First Nations, Métis, and Chinese populations in doing so. For that reason, there have been countless debates over whether or not his name and image should remain in the public sphere. Many Canadians today see Macdonald as a symbol of white supremacy whose image and name should be removed from the public sphere, while others view him as a symbol of Canadian identity and a great man whose name and image should remain public. It is my belief that despite his many discriminatory actions, Macdonald remains more than worthy of his public image due to his vital contributions toward defining Canada as its own country and the radically progressive mindset he exhibited for a man in his time period.
Macdonald was the key player in uniting Canada as a single nation separate from its powerful neighbour, America. Throughout his many years as prime minister, his “steadfast determination” proved to be the deciding factor to his success in “the building of a great transcontinental railway to link and tie together the very broad transcontinental country that he had created” (Symons). Furthermore, one of his final acts was convincing the people of Canada to reject a deal that would inevitably have led to Canada becoming a part of America and losing its unique nationality (Gwyn). Canada remained Canadian only through Macdonald’s valiant political efforts, and was united only because of his timely construction of the CPR. Ergo, the only reason Canada is the country it is today (or even a country at all) is Sir John A. Macdonald. This is undeniably an achievement worthy of public recognition.
Unfortunately, Macdonald’s successes came at a great cost: the genocide of First Nations and Chinese people in Canada along with the annihilation of their culture. Many Chinese, Métis, and First Nations parents are understandably concerned about sending their children to a school named after the mastermind behind their people’s despair and suffering. However, before denouncing Macdonald as a villain, it would be wise to consider that even his most discriminatory actions were perfectly logical and justified according to the views at the time. According to Tristan Hopper, Macdonald said of his actions: “that may be right or it may be wrong, it may be prejudice or otherwise, but the prejudice is near universal.” In fact, Macdonald was extremely progressive for his time, advocating for women’s rights and gender equality – an admirable outlook whose supporters’ names should not be removed from buildings such as schools. An article by Richard Gwyn quotes Macdonald, who stated that he had “hoped that Canada would have the honour of first placing women in the position she is certain,eventually, after centuries of oppression, to obtain … of completely establishing her equality as a human being and as a member of society with man.” This evidence shows that Macdonald’s culture wouldn’t have seen him as evil, and that Macdonald had a progressive side that today’s culture should take into consideration when discussing this issue. It demonstrates that Macdonald was an imperfect man who tried to give equality to half the world’s population despite the flawed values of his time.
Macdonald’s presence as a founding father and unifying figure contrasts with his genocide of non-“Aryan” Canadians and his symbolism for white supremacy. This has led to many disputes over whether his name and likeness should remain in the public eye or not. Due to his inseparability with the creation of Canada’s unique identity and his relative progressiveness concerning women’s rights, Macdonald’s monumental achievements justify his place in the public eye, even in the face of his wrongdoings. Now, I’ve spoken in defense of Macdonald, but I do believe his wrongs should be acknowledged. So, instead of removing Macdonald’s image from the public eye, I suggest we add a written acknowledgement of both his admirable achievements and his discriminatory deeds beside all of his statues. Doing that could prove to be educational and thought-provoking, and would offer reconciliation by revealing the truth instead of obscuring it.