130 academics and historians sign letter defending John A Macdonald’s legacy

As Sir John A Macdonald’s name is stripped from public edifices and statues of him are taken down or vandalized, a group of Canadian academics is defending the honour of Canada’s first prime minister.

The Macdonald-Laurier Institute ran a full-page ad commemorating Macdonald’s life and legacy in the National Post Monday, coinciding with Macdonald’s birthday.

The ad accompanied a letter signed by 130 historians, academics and other thought leaders calling for a more fulsome view of Macdonald.

“All Canadians deserve to hear the full story about Macdonald, the founding of Canada and Canadian history generally. Only then can we form reasoned views about that historical record,” the letter says.

Professor of politics and public administration at Ryerson University Patrice Dutil was one of the experts behind the project.

“2020 was a terrible year for John A Macdonald’s reputation. The defacing of statues across Ontario and the decapitation of the statue in Montréal, these things really jarred a group of us,” said Dutil.

“We are afraid this narrative is catching on.”

The letter was penned by a small group of concerned citizens who call themselves “the friends of John A Macdonald,” Dutil says.

“We are upset about how John A Macdonald is being portrayed to our school kids. He’s being portrayed as nothing more than a colonialist and a man who was instrumental in doing nothing more than suppressing the rights of indigenous Canadians,” said Dutil.

“There is a better story than this, and it’s a truer story. John A Macdonald was the chief architect of a country that we cherish and is the envy of the world. We want that story to be told.”

Despite Macdonald’s role in founding Canada and leading it through its formative years, his legacy has also become subject to attacks from numerous activists who argue his record on Indigenous issues is a source of national shame.

Statues of Macdonald being defaced or torn down by protesters, and in some cases by governments. Similarly, schools bearing his name have been renamed, and his portrait was removed from Canada’s ten-dollar bank note.

The Macdonald-Laurier Institute letter does not shy away from acknowledging historic shortcomings and acknowledges the frustration felt by the descendants of those affected by his mistakes.

Rather, the statement insists history needs to be looked at with a dispassionate eye to have a clearer vision of the future.

The letter was written with the intention of raising awareness and showing Canadians that there are people who oppose the current narrative. Dulti says if the movement gains traction and is supported they would like to begin lobbying the ministries of education to require schools teach Canadian history. 

“He was our prime minister for twenty years, who accomplished so much and he only gets a couple mentions about indigenous issues and Louis Riel. Those are important parts of the story, but it’s not the whole story,” said Dutil. 

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