Actions and Commitments

Call to Action # 68: Museums and Archives (67-70)

Hamilton adds signs at 4 monuments to acknowledge ‘problematic’ sites need to change

June 16, 2023

Signage was recommended by Indigenous experts as a temporary measure

Statue of man by a fountain
A 19th century surveyor in Upper Canada, Augustus Jones is commemorated with his monument in Stoney Creek. A circle of Indigenous experts recommends the city better represent the Indigenous communities that played an integral role in Jones’ success. (Samantha Beattie/CBC)

CBC News: At four historical sites across Hamilton, the city says it has installed signs to acknowledge the statues and monuments are “potentially problematic” for Indigenous communities and that it is working on “gathering the true history behind them.”

Signs went up this week. On Tuesday, new signage at the Augustus Jones statue in Stoney Creek read: “The City of Hamilton is working together with the community to provide a broader and more inclusive view of the past which may challenge some to rethink what they held to be truths.

“There is more than one story here. Each of the stories associated with this monument must and will be told.” 

Staff said in an update to council last week that the signs are temporary as they continue to gather those histories.

Lyndon George, the Indigenous justice coordinator at the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic, said the initiative is a step in the right direction. 

“It’s time for people to better understand how violent these institutions have been and continue to be for Indigenous people,” said George, who is an Ojibway member of the Kettle and Stoney Point First Nations. 

“I hope [the signs] work and people use them to learn their history as Canadians and that will help individuals better understand the Indigenous way of life.”

A city of hamilton sign
The city’s sign for understanding landmarks and monuments was put up on Tuesday near the Augustus Jones statue and plaque. (Samantha Beattie/CBC)

The signs are at the following sites: 

  • The Sir John A. MacDonald monument at Gore Park near King Street at Hughson Street;
  • The Queen Victoria monument at Gore Park, west end facing James Street;
  • The Augustus Jones statue at King Street East and Jones Street in Stoney Creek;
  • The United Empire Loyalists in front of 50 Main Street East and Dundurn Park.

This latest update comes almost two years after the statue of Macdonald was toppled as hundreds of people attended a rally calling for its removal.  The city began reviewing its monuments afterwards through consultations with a circle of experts including Indigenous elders, historians, artists and leaders, and as part of the city’s broader Urban Indigenous Strategy. 

The findings were released in a report last year called Honouring Our Roots, prepared by Ottawa-based consultant firm First Peoples Group. The report called for changes at the four “high priority” sites. 

The four temporary signs cost $17,000, the city said.

Message told in 3 languages

First Peoples Group president Heather Watts said the signs took time to create, as the message is written in English, Kanien’kéha (Mohawk) and Anishinaabemowin. “It is not a small feat,” said Watts, who is Mohawk and Anishinaabe from Six Nations of the Grand River Territory. “Typically we don’t have a direct translation between English and these languages.”

But the city wanted to allow the translation process to unfold, she said.  “They really wanted to ensure they put in the time to do things in a good way and there were multiple folks reviewing these translations as well,” Watts said. 

People gathered around a statue on the ground.
People cheered after the Sir John A. Macdonald statue in downtown Hamilton was pulled down in 2021. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Indigenous advocate Jordan Carrier, a Plains Cree woman and Hamilton resident, told CBC Hamilton she supports and respects the work of the circle of experts. “I am still of the mindset that public spaces should not commemorate perpetrators of harm and genocide,” Carrier said. “Removing these types of statues would be ideal, but this to me is a step forward.”

The report recommends the Sir John A. MacDonald statue stay removed permanently, along with the pedestal and cannons. He was Canada’s first prime minister and an architect of the residential school system. 

Changes proposed for each monument

The plaque at the Augustus Jones statue should be changed, the report recommends. According to the current plaque, Jones was a surveyor, helping Loyalist refugees fleeing the U.S., planning out town boundaries and roads across the area and becoming “actively involved” with local Indigenous people. 

The report calls this narrative “highly problematic and one sided” and recommends the city “honour the true history of Indigenous involvement in Jones’ successes and family story.”  “It’s really interesting to not only to think about the potential negative impacts, but also giving a nod to how did Indigenous community support that person in those efforts?” Watts said.

As for the Queen Victoria plaque, the city should take out that she had a “mothering role” over Canada and Indigenous peoples and explain why this narrative has and continues to affect Indigenous communities, the report says. “Queen Victoria is someone who presided over some of the most brutal and expansive years of colonial history in what we know as Canada,” said Watts.

The final monument highlighted in the report is of the United Empire Loyalists. It is currently accompanied by a plaque that credits them with laying “the foundations of this Canadian nation as an integral part of the British Empire.”  It leaves out the Indigenous history of the time period, around the early 19th century, and assumes Canada was already a country, which it was not, says the report. 

The thousands of Indigenous people who fought alongside the British during the American Revolution should be represented as well, Watts said.


Samantha Beattie, Samantha Beattie is a reporter for CBC Hamilton. She has also worked for CBC Toronto and as a Senior Reporter at HuffPost Canada. Before that, she dived into local politics as a Toronto Star reporter covering city hall.