News / Halifax

Removing 'a barrier to reconciliation:' Halifax council votes to take down Cornwallis statue

The statue will be moved into storage temporarily until council decides how to move forward.

The statue of Edward Cornwallis, a controversial historical figure, is seen in a city park in Halifax on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018. Cornwallis, the military officer who founded Halifax in 1749, offered a cash bounty to anyone who killed a Mi'kmaw person.

Andrew Vaughan / The Canadian Press

The statue of Edward Cornwallis, a controversial historical figure, is seen in a city park in Halifax on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018. Cornwallis, the military officer who founded Halifax in 1749, offered a cash bounty to anyone who killed a Mi'kmaw person.

Regional council voted on Tuesday to break down a “barrier to reconciliation,” potentially opening the door to continuing a stalled conversation with the Mi’kmaq about how Halifax commemorates its controversial founder.

After a council vote of 12-4, municipal staff will take the bronze statue of Edward Cornwallis down off its pedestal in its namesake park in South End Halifax, and put it in storage.

Cornwallis declared a bounty on Mi’kmaq scalps in 1749 in response to an attack on the sawmill in Dartmouth by Mi’kmaq warriors.

The statue was erected in 1931, paid for by Canadian National Railways, the province, and the city.

It’s unclear when the statue will be taken down or where it will be stored. The cost of removal and storage is estimated at $25,000.

“The Cornwallis statue has become a powerful symbol,” Mayor Mike Savage told his colleagues on Tuesday.

“I believe its continued presence on a pedestal in the middle of a city park is an impediment to sustained progress in forging productive, respectful, and lasting relationships with the Mi’kmaq in the spirit of truth and reconciliation.”

Savage rebuked the common phrase used by the statue’s defenders.

“This is not about rewriting history,” he said. “This is about acknowledging that it is not cast in bronze.”

After the vote, Savage praised Coun. Bill Karsten for his change of heart on the issue.

“I think it’s OK on an issue like this to evolve,” Karsten said, speaking in favour of the motion and starting the debate.

“I’m not embarrassed in the least to say that where I am now is not where I was even a month or two ago.”

Other councillors’ positions did not evolve.

“I’ve been very consistent from the very beginning of this whole Cornwallis debate,” sad Coun. David Hendsbee, one of the four votes against the motion.

“I’ve always supported a relocation … If you ask me, we should probably find a more significant spot that’s relevant to the history of Cornwallis, and the history of this garrison town of Halifax.”

Hendsbee proposed some new spots for the Cornwallis statue, including Citadel Hill, preferably outside the gates “because it’s more of a public presence;” Province House; or even “out front of the mayor’s office” in Grand Parade.

“If we’re gonna put him somewhere, let’s put him in plain sight, where people can still appreciate our history,” Hendsbee said.

But the majority of council decided that history can be taught without using a statue.

“Statues are not how we record history,” said Coun. Lisa Blackburn. “Statues are how we glorify history.”

“All the statue contributes to our community right now is a flashpoint for division. That’s it. It doesn’t teach history, it is just a symbol,” said Coun. Sam Austin.

“The statue has become a barrier to reconciliation and a symbol for all the historical injustices that have been done to the Mi’kmaq and other Indigenous Canadians.”

The Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs (ANSMC), which made the debate happen with a press release announcing its withdrawal from the Cornwallis committee process last week, praised council’s decision.

“We are pleased with today’s decision and hope that this will re-open doors for real Nation-to-Nation discussions and for next steps to continue right away,” ANSMC co-chair Chief Terrance Paul said in a news release.

The municipality will now attempt to convene the planned Cornwallis committee, approved by council in October 2017, to discuss the use of Cornwallis’ name on municipal property, including the statue. If that doesn’t happen within six months, staff will report back to council with other options.

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