A WAY FORWARD: TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION IN PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY

October 6th, 2020.

Deputation by Peter Lockyer to the Macdonald Working GroupOctober 6, 2020

Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today.

I am here to speak on behalf of history. I believe we need to have more history, not less; we need more public education, not less; and we need to harness the very best of us – not the least or worst – as we examine our complicated past, learn from it, and shape a new way forward.

 

I have been a journalist all my life – a job that has taken me across Canada, Europe, and to other parts of the world. I’ve reported on many stories involving indigenous peoples and minority groups in this country and elsewhere; I worked at Indian Affairs on the land claim of the Labrador Inuit, was a radio and tv trainer for First Nations Communication Societies, was part of the Special House of Commons Sub- Committee on Indian Self-government in the 1980s that recommended the elimination of the Department of Indian affairs and the Indian Act, and worked as the Interim Manager of the journalism program at the First Nations Technical Institute in Tyendinaga when I first returned to my hometown of Picton 20 years ago. 

 

I’ve been telling stories of Prince Edward County for 40 years beginning with my master’s thesis in journalism on the canning industry of The County.

 

In May 1884, in the same courthouse in Picton where John A. Macdonald held his first court case 50 years earlier, we had another trial of two men charged with a murder in Bloomfield at Christmas in the previous year. Much like now, there was very heated interest in this case.

 

Some people including local clergy and a prominent lawyer became convinced that the trial was a travesty of justice. But their voices were drowned out. The community wanted revenge. And they got it. We hung the two men on a June day in 1884 at 8 o’clock in the morning as the town’s church bells rang. We even botched their hanging – and they died horrible, slow deaths from strangulation. The community had their revenge. But it had nothing to do with justice.

 

I believe in our decision about what to do with our history – and the fate of the John A. Macdonald artwork on Picton’s Main Street – we need to ensure we aspire to justice rather than revenge.

 

Macdonald is not my hero. He is not my villain. I have always described him as an imperfect man living in imperfect times – just like us. But he is a dominant historical figure. He died in June, 1891, but here we – almost 130 years later - still talking about him in an animated, passionate fashion. That’s because it is not possible to talk about the history of this special place, the Quinte region, the country he helped create, and the many First Nations issues of land claims, treaty rights, residential schools, and other issues we are still living with, without talking about Macdonald.

 

There are moments in this country’s history that were turning points. Without Macdonald and others before him like Tecumseh, and his followers, and General Brock and his militia during the War of 1812, the fortunes of this country would have been very different. I believe the U.S. doctrine of Manifest Destiny would inevitably have made us American citizens. When we look at what is happening in that divided, tumultuous, angry nation today, would we really want that? I know I wouldn’t. So as imperfect as we are as a nation, we have inherited a lasting gift. Let’s build on these efforts and make this country better.

 

I also believe it’s true that Macdonald - and successive governments after him – made tragic mistakes including policies that were devastating to First Nations. So, the key question is what can we do now with all this history we have inherited? And what history will we make in our time?

 

I was to read from a book by award-winning author, playwright and teacher, Lee Maracle, at St. Andrews Church in Picton this winter. That event and Ms. Maracle’s lecture at the library were unfortunately cancelled. But the occasion gave me the opportunity to read one of her works, - a book called My Conversations with Canadians written in the 1970s. It’s a small book, but I found it very difficult to read – not because I disagreed with her comments or the anger she felt. I just found it so discouraging. It made me feel hopeless – except for one short sentence of advice she offered to Canadians – to people like me. She wrote “Do something about us, with us, and for us.”

 

So here are my thoughts on a way forward – based on doing something about First Nations, with First Nations, and for First Nations.

 

-       Councillor Bill Roberts has been advocating that we assist in repatriating Foresters’ Island to the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte. The property is largely owned by the Independent Order of Foresters, who have been trying to give the land back for many years. One of the impediments has been Prince Edward County. We started the process about 15 years ago, but we have never completed it.

 

-       Councillor Roberts has also encouraged The County to celebrate Indigenous Month next June. Why don’t we host our First Nations neighbours and arrange a number of activities and discover each other while breaking down the solitudes in which we now live?

 

-       We have many new housing developments underway in the county. Why not consider working with First Nations to name these new streets with street signs in multiple languages?

 

-       Why don’t we work with the Gord Downie – Chanie Wenjack Foundation to explore creation of First Nations architectural structures and spaces at key entranceways to The County?

 

-       One of the great examples of hidden history here is The Gunshot Treaty cairn at the stoplights at Carrying Place - a National Historic Site. It is currently in a terrible location and dangerous to visit. This is important living history created when British officials signed land treaties with First Nations to secure lots for Loyalist settlers in the 1780s, and the treaty was used two centuries later by the Nisga’a people of northern British Columbia – whom I have visited – to establish the legal land rights of indigenous peoples. Why don’t we work with First Nations, Quinte West and our political representatives to have this cairn moved to a better, safer location at the Murray Canal with more interpretive services?

 

-       Why don’t we consider commissioning another piece of art work undertaken in consultation with First Nations and First Nation’s artists to depict their story of this country? This new work will stand beside the Macdonald statue at its current location at the library – a centre of learning.

 

We are not the only community struggling to reconcile the past. Last month in Manitoba, the Metis declined to sign a petition to take down statues and street signs honouring Field Marshall Garnet Wolseley, who led the forces sent to quell the Red River Rebellion. David Chartrand, President of the Manitoba Metis Federation, stated his people wanted to have all Canadians remember this soldier and the man who sent him, John A. Macdonald. “We can’t hide this history,” he said. ”We need to tell the truth about that history and I think that would be more healing than trying to rip down statues.”

 

The City of Kingston embarked on an 18-month consultation process led by a First Nations’ facilitation firm. The result is that the city is keeping their statue of Sir John A. Macdonald, and beginning an ambitious range of initiatives to do a better job of telling the story of his complex legacy.

 

Macdonald’s former Kingston home, Bellevue House, a museum operated by Parks Canada, has also undergone an extensive community and First Nations consultation, and is expanding their programming to be more inclusive.

 

Chief Maracle of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte has consistently stated we need to “add to history; not delete it.”

 

Of all the voices clamouring to be heard, I hope we listen most to the thoughts of our First Nations neighbours. Because only they can truly answer the key question of the working group’s mandate. What do we do now with this history we share?

 

On a personal note, I have been left very discouraged by our efforts so far. I have been labelled a racist by people I have never met and who know nothing about me. I had my car vandalized when I parked it by the library one day this summer. I have been the target of a vicious campaign of bullying, intimidation, attempts to silence my voice, and harassment that has forced me to take legal action.  I don’t know what any of this has to do with truth and reconciliation. 

 

I had higher hopes for this community discussion. I view it as such a unique opportunity for us as a community to be fearless about our shared past and to be respectful, civil, and creative in jointly fashioning another way forward to make history in our time. I am saddened by what this has become. Because it is a wasted opportunity to do something remarkable…together.

 

These are extraordinary times. So, I am asking you to do something extraordinary. I am asking you to release us from being perpetual prisoners of the past; to focus on efforts to learn from the past while going forward together towards a different, better future. Create solutions that unite us rather than divide us; that are constructive rather than destructive; that bring out the best of us – not the least or worst.

 

Can we be thoughtful, and respectful enough to bring about profound, enduring, enlightened, and lasting change?

 

Thank you for your time today.

 

 

APPENDIX A – THE MACDONALD PROJECT AND COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT

 

The Macdonald Project took five years of volunteer effort of my life – and it was longer for some other members of the committee.

 

During this period, there were numerous public presentations, lectures, site plan reviews, consultations with community partners, sponsors, donors, municipal staff and members of Council. It is simply not true to imply that this was an effort by a small group to do an end run around the community.

 

Community partners included The Community Foundation, Picton BIA, PEC Historical Society, The Streetsmarts Committee, and the Downtown Revitalization Committee along with local government, which accepted the gift of the art work as part of a national event to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Macdonald’s birth in 2015. The project was supported by almost $80,000 In donations raised within the community and matched by substantial grants from The Parrott Foundation and Heritage Canada – organizations that would never, ever support racist activities. Huff Estates Winery produced a special vintage for the occasion. The Waring House hosted multiple events as did The Regent Theatre. 

 

The project itself was guided by existing municipal policies and strategic plans such as:

 

-       Strategic Action Plan for Downtown Picton 2005

-       Growing The Creative Rural Economy in PEC 2008

-        Picton Heritage Conservation District plan 2012

-       Cultural Resources Issues Paper, PEC Planning Department June 2012. That document urged the community to promote one of its greatest dormant assets – its history – through a wide range of storytelling approaches – plays, lectures, anniversary events, re-enactments, and public art.

 

Here is a chronology of some of the public events hosted by the Macdonald Project:

 

- August 28, 2010 – The Macdonald Project was announced at a public reception at the Red Courtyard Barn on Glenora Road

 

- January 11, 2011 – Sir John Eh Day at the Waring House

 

- April 4, 2011 – Macdonald lecture at The Regent Theatre by Prof. David Warrick

 

- August 9, 2011 – site selection meeting at the Picton Town Hall

 

 - November 10, 2011 – Journalist Richard Gwyn, author of a two - volume set of books about Sir John A. Macdonald, spoke at Books and Company

 

 - June 6, 2012 – The project is announced in Kingston at a commemorative event hosted by the Kingston Historical Society at the Catarqui Cemetery

 

 - June 2012 – Public release of site drawings for the proposed site at the Picton Armoury

 

 - May 26, 2013 – Unveiling of a bust of Macdonald and lecture by renowed Canadian artist, Ruth Abernethy, at The Regent Theatre

 

 - December 11, 2013 – Public release of a Macdonald Project brochure

 

 - January 11, 2014 – Four unveilings of the bust of Macdonald in area communities 

 

 - April 2, 2014 – Project announcement at the Ontario Legislature by MPP Todd Smith/Speaker Dave Levac

 

 - June 10, 2014 – Unveiling of Macdonald bust at Osgood Hall, Toronto

 

 - July 1, 2014 – Release of a commemorative Macdonald sparkling wine at Huff Estates Winery

 

 - July 14, 2014 – Re-enactment of the 1884 Lazier Murder Trial at the Picton courthouse as a fundraiser for the Macdonald Project

 

 - January 10, 2015 – Unveiling of the Macdonald artwork at The Fairmont Royal York Hotel in Toronto at a VIP event hosted by Steve Paikin of TVO Ontario. Former Prime Minister, The Rt. Honourable Kim Campbell, former Ontario Premier, Kathleen Wynne, the Hon. Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Lt. Governor of Ontario, and actor R.H. Thomson were among the approximately 400 guests who attended the event.  

 

 - May 9, 2015 – Presentation at the Friends of the Murray Canal annual dinner

 

 - July 1, 2015 – Canada Day unveiling of the Holding Court artwork in Picton

 

 - August 19, 2015 – Plaque unveiling at the inauguration of the Sir John A. Macdonald Plaza, Union Station, Toronto

 

 - August 28, 2015 – Unveiling of Macdonald bust at Macaulay Museum

 

 - October 23, 2015 – Plaque unveiled at the site of the artwork at the Picton Armoury

 

2016 – Work with County officials for identification of historical points of interest associated with Macdonald in the Quinte region, a project funded by area municipalities

 

Throughout the life span of the project it received considerable local, regional and national media coverage.