HALIFAX — A group of demonstrators sang an Indigenous honour song on Sunday at the site where a statue of Halifax’s controversial founder stood just days before.
Dozens of people gathered in downtown Halifax to revel in the removal of a bronze figure of Edward Cornwallis from the park bearing his name.
Cornwallis is a disputed character, seen by some as a brave leader who founded Halifax, but by others as the impetus of a 1749 scalping proclamation against Mi’kmaq inhabitants.
The statue “had such a nice view,” organizer Suzanne Patles said with a laugh as she stood atop the empty concrete pedestal. “But it’s our view now, because we’re taking over … It’s time for the Indigenous uprising.”
The event had originally been billed as a “Removing Cornwallis” rally to protest the statue, which had stood in Edward Cornwallis Park for roughly 85 years. It was taken down last week after Halifax councillors voted 12-4 to temporarily place the monument in storage while awaiting a decision about its long-term fate.
After a municipal process to re-examine Cornwallis commemorations was derailed about a week ago, Halifax council considered a staff report that highlighted rising tensions around the statue, saying Sunday’s protest could result in clashes between protesters, damage to the statue and personal injury.
Police came to the park on Sunday to monitor the peaceful demonstration. While only a fraction of the hundreds of Facebook users who had expressed interest in the event showed up, the mood was jovial as activists hailed the statue’s removal as what they hope will be the first of several victories in their years-long campaign to rid Halifax of its many Cornwallis tributes.
“This isn’t over. The removal of the statue is just the beginning steps towards reconciliation,” Patles said in an interview, adding that Sunday’s event was meant “to keep the pressure on.”
A smudging ceremony was performed to rid the park of what Patles described as the “lingering negativity” left behind by the statue.
Daniel Paul, a Mi’kmaq elder and historian who has spent 30 years trying to excavate the darker side of Cornwallis’s legacy, came out to walk through the park for the first time without the figure of a man he says massacred his ancestors staring down at him.
“To me, it was a symbol of white supremacist thinking,” Paul told reporters. “I’m glad that our Nova Scotia society is progressing to the extent where the general population is beginning to view something like that as an impediment to good relations.”
At least one person turned out at Sunday’s gathering to push back against the statue’s removal, expressing concerns about history being erased.
But Mi’kmaq activist Rebecca Moore, who helped organize the event, said the goal was to “unearth” a fuller account of history that recognizes the injustices suffered by the Mi’kmaq people.
People on both sides of the debate agreed that putting the statue in a museum, with plaques outlining its historical context, could be a reasonable compromise.
Shortly after the crowd dispersed on Sunday, a reporter for the Indigenous network APTN tweeted a photo of a teepee that had been erected near where the statue had stood.