July 10, 2020

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Winnipeg monument re-evaluation plan nears final approval

A pillar stands between the Manitoba Museum and Centennial Concert Hall paying tribute to men who died fighting the Louis Riel-led Métis forces at Fish Creek and Batoche, Sask., in 1885. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

A pillar stands between the Manitoba Museum and Centennial Concert Hall paying tribute to men who died fighting the Louis Riel-led Métis forces at Fish Creek and Batoche, Sask., in 1885. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

A new policy that lays out the path for Winnipeggers to rename and re-contextualize local monuments to help commemorate Indigenous history is one step closer to completion.

Executive policy committee gave the green light to the "Welcoming Winnipeg: Reconciling Our History" initiative at city hall Tuesday morning, sending it to council for approval later this month.

The policy, drafted after extensive public consultations by the city's Indigenous relations division, recommends installing a diverse committee to field applications from members of the public about monuments to be named, renamed or given added context.

Mayor Brian Bowman said he was surprised by the level of nuance with which residents responded to the idea, telling reporters Tuesday he had assumed — when the project launched last year — the majority would be in favour of removing controversial landmarks from the cityscape.

Similar discussions have panned out in other Canadian cities such as Victoria and Halifax over the past few years, where statues of Sir John A. Macdonald and Edward Cornwallis were taken down.

"I, for one, cringe when I hear people talking about rewriting history. (The city is) not going to rewrite history, but how do we acknowledge history in an accurate way that pays appropriate deference to historic reality?"

Bowman discussed how "Welcoming Winnipeg" stemmed from a conversation he had with Halifax Mayor Michael Savage about how to proactively address contentious monuments, rather than have city council react hurriedly to public pressure.

Bowman said he still expects to hear "divisive debates" about local landmarks, but would hope the new policy will help steer conversations toward truth and reconciliation.

The stone engraving reads: "Erected by citizens of Winnipeg 1886. In Memoriam. Fish Creek. Batoche."  (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

The stone engraving reads: "Erected by citizens of Winnipeg 1886. In Memoriam. Fish Creek. Batoche." (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

"You can’t have the reconciliation without people knowing the truth and the history of this community," the mayor said.

"I, for one, cringe when I hear people talking about rewriting history. (The city is) not going to rewrite history, but how do we acknowledge history in an accurate way that pays appropriate deference to historic reality?"

For Bowman, there are "many" monuments that need to be addressed, including a statue standing almost directly across from city hall.

The Volunteer Monument was designed by architect Samuel Hooper and placed on the original City Hall grounds in 1886.

The tall pillar now stands between the Manitoba Museum and Centennial Concert Hall. It originally paid tribute to the battalion that fought the Louis Riel-led Métis forces at Fish Creek and Batoche, Sask., in 1885, and was later rededicated to the Royal Winnipeg Rifles.

The insciription on the plaque reads: "In honour of all who have served with the Royal Winnipeg Rifles. This volunteer monument is re-dedicated. First erected in 1886 on the City Hall grounds by the citizens of Winnipeg, the monument was moved to this site in 1963."  (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

The insciription on the plaque reads: "In honour of all who have served with the Royal Winnipeg Rifles. This volunteer monument is re-dedicated. First erected in 1886 on the City Hall grounds by the citizens of Winnipeg, the monument was moved to this site in 1963." (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

The monument commemorates some lives lost during the Battle of Batoche, but not those of the Métis, the mayor pointed out.

"I may have my personal views, but we may hear there are others that are of higher priority that may come forward and I’ll want to listen to the community in due course, rather than simply politically impose something that could really inflame the community on this," he said.

jessica.botelho@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @_jessbu

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