Saskatchewan’s premier is wading into the debate on whether schools in Ontario should remove the name of Sir John A. Macdonald from buildings.
Last week, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario passed a motion at its annual meeting last week calling on all school districts in Ontario to rename schools and buildings named after Canada’s first prime minister.
The union said it wants the name change because of what it calls Macdonald’s role as the “architect of genocide against Indigenous Peoples.” Macdonald was prime minister during the time the federal government approved the first residential schools in the country.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall responded to the issue in a lengthy message — titled, “Beware the slippery slope of removing historic names — posted as an image to Facebook. It read in part:
“For what they are worth, I offer words of caution to the group of Ontario teachers and perhaps others who apparently wish to remove Sir John A. MacDonald’s name from schools.
John A. MacDonald used the word ‘savages’ to describe Aboriginal Peoples.
What is so unacceptable as to be obscene today was tragically the stuff of daily parlance then. It is a terrible but undeniable feature of our history that dims any light that shines on the memory of our first Prime Minister.”
Wall then goes on to talk about MacDonald’s accomplishments: establishing the North West Mounted Police — today the RCMP — building the Canadian Pacific Railway and becoming the father of confederation.
He then name others, notably Abraham Lincoln and Tommy Douglas, listing their numerous accomplishments and some of their now-outdated beliefs and behaviours.
Wall finishes the post by saying, “Is it not a short walk between the calls to remove the name of our first Prime Minister from schools, to the closing of the Lincoln memorial in Washington DC, or the removal of Tommy Douglas’ name from a Saskatoon school?
Rather, let us use these namesakes for the opportunity to teach our history, to remember the achievements of those who have went before.
And yes, let us also resolve to never forget their mistakes; their misguided and dangerous beliefs to which many, if not the majority, once clung.”
As of Friday afternoon, the Facebook post had been shared 130 times and received around 300 comments.
—With files from The Canadian Press.