December 7, 2019

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Mayor launches plan to reconsider landmarks named for controversial figures

City hall is asking Winnipeggers to help it develop a policy to deal with the monuments and place names established for historical figures once considered founding fathers but now seen through a modern lens as racists, scoundrels, con men and murderers.

Mayor Brian Bowman held a news conference at city hall Tuesday to announce Welcoming Winnipeg, a local initiative to reconsider such markers in their proper historical context and in relation to how those historical figures dealt with the local Indigenous people.

Mayor Brian Bowman announces a new initiative towards reconciliation as Kimberley Puhach of the Mayor’s Indigenous Advisory Circle listens. (Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press)

Mayor Brian Bowman announces a new initiative towards reconciliation as Kimberley Puhach of the Mayor’s Indigenous Advisory Circle listens. (Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press)

"I don’t think (for) the majority of Winnipeggers out there right now, this is their No. 1 priority, but for those whose families have been affected by some of the harms that Canada has caused to its Indigenous people, it matters a lot," Bowman, who identifies as Métis, said during a noon-hour news conference.

The efforts by communities to deal with historical figures has become a hot topic issue across both Canada and the United States. Several southern U.S. communities have been bitterly divided over efforts to remove statues honouring those seen by some as Confederate heroes.

Historical re-evaluations

Several historical individuals were singled out Tuesday by Mayor Brian Bowman, who said their place in Winnipeg’s history needs to be re-evaluated.

“These historical figures were complicated men. I can understand why their reputations and actions are viewed so differently by people engaged in this discussion."

Several historical individuals were singled out Tuesday by Mayor Brian Bowman, who said their place in Winnipeg’s history needs to be re-evaluated.

“These historical figures were complicated men. I can understand why their reputations and actions are viewed so differently by people engaged in this discussion

Garnet Joseph Wolseley, commander of the Red River Expeditionary Force in 1870 to establish Canadian sovereignty in Manitoba and what was then the Northwest Territories. Commemorated in Winnipeg with Wolseley Avenue, Wolseley School and the Wolseley neighbourhood.

Vital-Justin Grandin, a Roman Catholic bishop on the Prairies, who was canonized in 1966. Supporter of Métis rights, but also played leading role in the federal government’s construction of residential schools. Commemorated with Bishop Grandin Boulevard, and St. Vital and St. Vital Shopping Centre.

Edgar Dewdney, Indian commissioner and lieutenant-governor of the Northwest Territories. His policies included withholding food rations from Indigenous people to force them to settle on reserves. Commemorated in Winnipeg with a street name in Point Douglas.

Donald Alexander Smith, first Baron Strathcona and Mount Royal. A British Empire businessman and philanthropist, co-founded the CPR, a governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Bowman said Smith was frequently criticized for corruption. Commemorated in Winnipeg with Donald Street, Smith Street, and Strathcona Street.

Welcoming Winnipeg

What is it?

• A two-month, public engagement initiative asking Winnipeggers what should be done with the historical monuments and place names which honour individuals whose actions in the past are often at odds with views of contemporary, progressive society; and, how to resolve the absence of Indigenous perspectives, experiences, and contributions to the community.

Where to get information on the effort?

• Visit winnipeg.ca/welcomingwinnipeg.

How to share your opinion?

• Complete an online survey at welcomingwinnnipeg.metroquest.ca.

In Canada, the City of Victoria removed the statue of Sir John A. Macdonald, the country's first prime minister, from its city hall front steps in August 2018. Later that month, a statue of Macdonald was vandalized in Regina, with its hands painted red. In Montreal, a Macdonald statue was painted totally red in 2017.  

Bowman said he doesn’t know how Winnipeg should deal with these monuments and place names, but doesn’t want the city to take any action without first consulting the community, adding the initiative is part of reconciliation efforts.

"What we're trying to do here is learn from what we've seen in other communities, where municipal governments have reacted to debates about single monuments or place names," he said.

Bowman referenced the monument on Main Street, across from city hall and tucked in between the concert hall the Manitoba Museum, that honours the 90th Rifles Battalion, later known as the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, for the role it played in defeating Louis Riel and putting down the 1885 Métis rebellion. It is believed to be the first war monument erected in Winnipeg.

The mayor described it as one "that honours the Dominion of Canada’s premeditated, calculated, and deliberate suppression of its own people — the Métis, a group of people who today are recognized in our country’s constitution."

Bowman also cited the names of several historical figures such as Donald Alexander Smith, Garnet Joseph Wolseley, Vital-Justin Grandin and Edgar Dewdney, whom many of the city’s streets and neighbourhoods are named after.

The Wolseley neighbourhood, a street and school are named after Garnet Joseph Wolseley, commander of the Red River Expeditionary Force that suppressed the 1885 Riel uprising. (Ken Gigliotti / Winnipeg Free Press files)</p></p></p>

The Wolseley neighbourhood, a street and school are named after Garnet Joseph Wolseley, commander of the Red River Expeditionary Force that suppressed the 1885 Riel uprising. (Ken Gigliotti / Winnipeg Free Press files)

"For some, the names and monuments disproportionately represents aspects of our shared history that make many in our community feel marginalized and forgotten," the mayor said. "For others, the names and monuments celebrate progress, the development of a nation and a history they know, understand and are familiar with."

Rhonda Forgues, the manager of city hall’s Indigenous relations division, said the public engagement process will involve an online survey and a panel event and discussion March 13 at the University of Winnipeg.

Forgues said the public engagement will end March 18. A report will be prepared for council’s consideration at its June meeting.

Bowman said the two-month initiative will "reconcile the absence of Indigenous perspectives, experiences and contributions in the stories remembered and commemorated across our city. It’s an engagement effort that will challenge Winnipeggers to examine our history and where it has led our city."

"It will challenge everyone to hear, to learn and to respect the views of all of our residents as we decide where our city is headed in the future," he said.

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

Aldo Santin

Aldo Santin
Reporter

Aldo Santin is a veteran newspaper reporter who first carried a pen and notepad in 1978 and joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1986, where he has covered a variety of beats and specialty areas including education, aboriginal issues, urban and downtown development. Santin has been covering city hall since 2013.

Read full biography

History

Updated on Tuesday, January 29, 2019 at 5:34 PM CST: additional formatting

7:06 PM: fixes typo

January 30, 2019 at 7:46 AM: Corrects information about Garnet Joseph Wolseley

11:38 AM: fixes cutline

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