Is first PM plaque-worthy?

On Jan. 10 it was the 200th anniversary of the birth of the first prime minister of Canada, probably the leading nation-building spirit behind the founding of our country.

There are many things that are good about the founder of our beloved country, and there are other things which in retrospect are not so good. It is these parts of our history that cause many to say Sir John A. was a bigot, Sir John A. was a drunk, Sir John A. was a politician who only believed in England, and more.

Sir John A. MacDonald in 1872
Sir John A. MacDonald in 1872

The truth is that Sir John A. MacDonald was a product of the times. He was a politician, but he was also a human being who came along and helped bring about this great country called Canada as we know it. I do not condone his racial views or financial dealings. All I am saying is let history be the judge of this man. He did try to unite the country, from sea to sea, and from the north to the south – is anyone without fault?

I write as an amateur historian who wants to know whether the people of our area, the East End of Toronto, should recognize this person, the first prime minister of Canada, with some type of tangible monument. Should we name a park after him? Name a street after him? Should we do nothing?

Sir John A. came to this area in 1878, making an hours-long speech via telegraph from Victoria Park, where the R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant now stands. Many say that speech won him the election.

I now propose to you – citizens, teachers, legislators, children, and all Canadians in the Beach – shall we honour Sir John A. MacDonald with a fitting tribute such as a historic plaque on the grounds of the R.C. Harris plant?

Please let me know what you think we, as Canadians, should do. I would like to know, as an amateur historian and also as a proud Canadian who would like to see recognition for Sir John A. MacDonald.

Victoria Park is shown in 1924, before the R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant was built on the site. Sir John A. MacDonald made an hours-long speech from Victoria Park in 1878, securing a re-election as prime minister after a four-year role as leader of the opposition. PHOTO: City of Toronto Archives, Series 372, Subseries 72, Item 983
Victoria Park is shown in 1924, before the R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant was built on the site. Sir John A. MacDonald made an hours-long speech from Victoria Park in 1878, securing a re-election as prime minister after a four-year role as leader of the opposition.
PHOTO: City of Toronto Archives, Series 372, Subseries 72, Item 983

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1 comments

As a citizen of the Beach and a Métis individual, I say “No” to a plaque honouring J.A. Macdonald at the R.C. Harris plant. To do so would dishonour First Nations people.

You are right: J.A. Macdonald was more than a “bigot, a drunk, and a politician who believed in England.” When he wanted to “open the west” to settlers, treaties were negotiated with First Nations people, who, by agreeing to take reservations, were expected to transition from hunter gatherers to farmers. Treaty 6 promised medical aid and famine relief. Years later, when famine and disease (tuberculosis) struck, not only did Macdonald refuse medical aid, he gave direct orders to “reduce rations to the Indians.”

In James Daschuk’s excellent book, Clearing the Plains, he writes: “The loss of life was immense and amounted to a “state-sponsored attack on indigenous communities” whose effects “haunt us as a nation still.”

The lasting impact that Macdonald’s residential schools have had on Canada’s Indigenous population, link directly to the high incidences of poverty, sexual abuse and alcohol and drug addiction among native people.

To erect a plaque to a man who was responsible for First Nations genocide would insult the people whose ancestors were starved to death by broken promises and those who still struggle with the damaging effects of the residential school system.

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