Long live the (decapitated) queen

Historian says vandalized statue should be displayed

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The Queen Victoria statue — in its ravaged and decapitated state — should be on display as a “teachable moment” to Manitobans.

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The Queen Victoria statue — in its ravaged and decapitated state — should be on display as a “teachable moment” to Manitobans.

Gordon Goldsborough, president of the Manitoba Historical Society said the massive statue, with its severed head, is now part of Manitoba history and ought to be treated as such.

“The reality is, (it) got beheaded,” he said. “We learn from that.”

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES The Manitoba Historical Society president says the Queen Victoria statue is part of history now and should not be discarded.

The statue, a symbol of colonization, was vandalized and pulled off its podium at the Manitoba legislature on Canada Day last year after the discovery of potential unmarked graves near a former Indian Residential School in B.C.

An emotional crowd used ropes to pull it down and remove its head, which was later found in the nearby Assiniboine River.

The provincial government said this week the statue is beyond repair and would cost too much — at least $500,000 — to replicate. A smaller statue of Queen Elizabeth that was on the grounds of Government House next to the legislature is being repaired and will be put back in place, it said.

The fate of the mauled Queen Victoria monument is undecided, and its whereabouts have not been disclosed.

If presenting the statue with the head removed is deemed too ghoulish or frightening a tableau, it could be reattached in an obvious way “so we know it’s been beheaded,” said Goldsborough, the chief researcher for the historical society.

“There are all kinds of things that are distasteful” in history, he said.

The Queen Victoria statue should not be discarded, said Goldsborough, who has not been consulted by the province on the matter. In the past, he suggested it should be placed in a memorial garden where it and other items can be displayed with interpretive information.

“This will allow future Manitobans to understand the role these people played and why they were controversial,” the historian said. “We need periodic reminders about shameful aspects of our history so we can avoid repeating past mistakes.”

The president of the Manitoba Métis Federation said he thinks Queen Victoria deserves a new statue of some kind on the legislative building grounds.

“Queen Victoria played a pivotal role in ensuring that the Métis of the Red River were going to be dealt with and heard,” David Chartrand said Thursday.

“It was Queen Victoria, during her time in charge of the monarchy, who made it very clear to (prime minister) John A. Macdonald that ‘If you do not deal with the Métis of the West, we’re not going to transfer that land to you’,” the present-day Manitoba Métis leader said. “Otherwise, he’d probably just get the army and plow right through us because they would have outnumbered us.”

Goldsborough said Queen Victoria’s motivation probably had little to do with helping the Métis and that she was likely just as “blood thirsty” as Macdonald in her attitude toward assimilating Indigenous people.

Still, Chartrand said Victoria deserves a place.

“To me, that statue is important. It’s part of our history and they shouldn’t just abandon it.”

Others want to start fresh.

“Manitobans want to reconcile feeling proud of their country with the legacy of residential schools,” NDP Indigenous reconciliation critic Ian Bushie said Thursday.

“We think the best way to do that is to reach out to people across Manitoba and put together a new monument that represents all of us, and the province we are building, where every child can reach their full potential,” he said in a prepared statement.

“Canadian values and patriotism are not about ignoring the dark parts of our history,” Bushie said. “They are about being committed to doing the work necessary to create a brighter future for everyone.”

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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