Historians split on Sir John A. Macdonald’s legacy, Parks Canada launches ‘racism’ tours

Black history lecturer and historian Channon Oyeniran called the reopening of Bellevue House "a testament to the re-writing of this history, as we continue to define and shape Canada."

Historians split on Sir John A Macdonald’s legacy, Parks Canada launches ‘racism’ tours
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Parks Canada reopened the historic home of Canada’s first prime minister on Saturday with $9 “racism and sexism” tours. 

The agency said its Unpacking Macdonald tour will examine “social class structures, racism and sexism in Victorian Canada while looking closer at some of Sir John A. Macdonald’s political decisions," but did not elaborate further. 

The Bellevue House National Historic Site has been closed for years following extensive renovations totalling $2.1 million.

During the unveiling of Bellevue House, Parks Canada Superintendent Jarred Pincher recognized there are “different perspectives” on Canada’s past.

“What we’re trying to accomplish here at Parks Canada is to bring those perspectives to the floor and let visitors connect with these places the way they’d like to,” he said.

Bellevue House is referred to as “a place of contemplation on Canada’s colonial beginnings" in the 2023 Parks Canada management plan.

The Aristotle Foundation for Public Policy defended Macdonald’s legacy, claiming he “saved more Indigenous lives than any other prime minister.”

“The irony is that if righting injustices, overcoming racism, and reconciling with First Peoples is the standard by which we judge, few leaders in human history can rival the greatness of Sir John A. MacDonald,” said David Hunt, research director with the foundation.

He referenced Macdonald’s “highly effective vaccine campaign” to save Indigenous lives from smallpox and famine relief to prevent starvation.

Channon Oyeniran, historian and lecturer of Black History, countered the argument by suggesting Canada was “steeped in racism, colonialism, and white supremacy.”

“The reopening of Bellevue House is a testament to the re-writing of this history, as we continue to define and shape Canada,” she said at the unveiling of Bellevue House.

In defence of Prime Minister Macdonald, Hunt said the Canadian government at the time honoured treaties and established the RCMP to prevent war and violence. 

“He saved many tens of thousands of human lives — mostly Indigenous — if we compare his record to his American counterparts,” Hunt told Rebel News.

Oyeniran called out Canadians who perceived their image better than the United States. “These inaccurate views and ideas are traced back to not knowing our history,” she said.

The revision of tour content follows the 2021 removal of a Library and Archives Canada web feature called First Among Equals, which honoured Macdonald and his successors in a “celebration of Canada’s prime ministers.” 

Deletion of the web pages reflected a 2019 cabinet paper Framework For History And Commemoration that said official histories must address “colonialism, patriarchy and racism,” as reported by Blacklock’s Reporter.

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