PORT WILLIAMS – A group of students with a creative solution for Halifax’s Cornwallis statue are looking up even after the statue has been taken down.
Students at Port Williams’ Booker School who’ve proposed a creative solution to keeping the statue standing had the opportunity to meet with the city’s deputy mayor to make their case.
Waye Mason, the deputy mayor on Halifax’s Regional Council, met with the grade 6 to 8 students Feb. 7 to discuss their proposal to leave Cornwallis standing, off his pedestal, and erect three more statues representing African Nova Scotia, Acadian and Mi’kmaq history to join him.
“You can rebut, remove, or change the meaning of the statue. We’re proposing to change it,” said grade 7 student Henry Mulherin.
'A complicated, historical issue'
The students presented their arguments to Mason and community members who joined the meeting, including sculptors Elizabeth Sircom, of Hantsport, and Brad Hall, of Annapolis Royal.
They presented their proposal, how they came up with their unique solution, and why they believe leaving Cornwallis standing is so crucial to people remembering the past.
“History is a lot broader than these colonialist views,” said grade 8 student Forrest Robinson.
“This statue can remind people [of what happened] so they don’t forget,” said classmate Will Mercer.
“And, if the other statues were standing with it, people wouldn’t feel uncomfortable. They would feel like they’re part of the conversation too.”
The meeting with Mason followed the temporary removal of the statue Jan. 31 after council decided it was impeding an open discussion on what to do with the controversial figure.
Mason described the conversation kicking off in 2014, when a public meeting was held about the children’s playground within the same park space. 200 people showed up, with very few speaking on the playground at all.
After more than three years, the statue has been removed, a move which council hopes widens the discussion and makes people more comfortable.
“It was apparent from the start that this is a complicated, historical issue, and we’ve realized having the statue standing is keeping the dialogue from moving forward,” he said.
“We’re hoping this makes everyone more comfortable and open to discussing different solutions.”
Reconciling the statue with history
After students asked what council will do now that the statue is down, Mason described the special committee that has been set up and will soon revive the discussion on what to do with Cornwallis.
Four Aboriginal and four non-Aboriginal people have been appointed to the group, and council has hired Wyatt White as their first Indigenous Community Engagement Advisor.
“This is all brand new. We’ve never engaged with reconciliation on this level before,” said Mason.
The students also described the stages of their proposal at the meeting, which began with the removal of Cornwallis from his pedestal and followed with a community discussion about how to use the statue as an educational tool.
“Now that the statue is down, I feel like people aren’t talking about it as much,” said Mulherin.
The artists present echoed their sentiments, with Hall calling the students’ proposal a "fantastic idea."
“The role of Cornwallis as a teaching tool is getting lost in this debate,” he said.
Sircom agreed, adding that perception is key.
“Cornwallis the conqueror is how this statue has looked for years. These new statues could help change that… through the artists’ interpretation,” she said.
Mason said he agreed and praised the students’ proposal, and praised them for opening their presentation by acknowledging their presence on unceded Mi’kmaq territory.
“You guys are at the forefront of a national conversation,” said Mason.
“This is one of the good ones, and the committee is definitely going to talk about this.”