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Montreal won’t return toppled John A. Macdonald statue to its downtown pedestal

August 31, 2023

Statue was damaged during anti-racism protest in 2020

The head and body of a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald are shown torn down following a demonstration in Montreal, Saturday, Aug. 29, 2020, where they protested to defund the police with a goal to end all systemic racism within all sectors of the Canadian government. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

CBC News: Originally posted Aug. 30 – Montreal’s toppled John A. Macdonald statue won’t be put back on its pedestal in Place du Canada, the city’s executive committee decided on Wednesday. 

The statue’s head fell off when protesters hauled it down in 2020 during a demonstration calling for the defunding of the Montreal police and an end to systemic racism. The city says it will now be restored and put on display somewhere else, where it can be accompanied by the proper context explaining its historical significance and controversy. 

But the pedestal where the statue stood since its erection in 1895 will stay, as per the recommendations of a committee set up to determine its future. The executive committee adopted those recommendations Wednesday morning.

Now, Montreal will commission artists to find a way of modernizing the monument. 

“The decision was not made to erase history, but to confront it with the values and preoccupations of our time,” said Ericka Alneus, the executive committee member responsible for culture and heritage.

Alneus said the city was currently in discussions with multiple institutions to find a place for the statue and to have it repaired.

The plaque which will be placed at the pedestal where the statue formerly stood will be installed sometime in October, Alneus said. She did not yet know exactly what would be inscribed, but said Indigenous experts had been consulted.

“We have the opportunity here to add elements that were missing from the story,” Alneus said. “The challenge will be to add the context that explains why the canopy is empty.”

Alneus also recognized that the city’s decision not to return the Macdonald statue may be controversial. Among those who gave it a cool reception on Wednesday was Quebec Minister of Culture and Communications Mathieu Lacombe. “Our government’s position is very clear: we must not rewrite history,” he told reporters.

Lacombe stopped short of saying the statue should return to its original location but asserted, “we have to live with this history, for better or for worse.”

The committee that presented its recommendations on Wednesday was established after the statue was torn down. It was tasked with deciding what should be done with the monument. 

Protesters have targeted monuments to John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister, because of his legacy of implementing racist policies toward Indigenous people and his instrumental role in creating Canada’s residential school system.

Before it was torn down in 2020, the downtown Montreal statue had been repeatedly doused in red paint.

Cities across the country including Charlottetown, Regina, and Kingston, Ont., where Macdonald lived, recently removed their statues of the former prime minister from public spaces. Hamilton, Ont., had its statue of Macdonald torn down, too, but hasn’t yet announced whether it will be re-erected.

Toppled Montreal John A. Macdonald statue won’t return to its pedestal

WATCH | Toppled statue of Canada’s 1st prime minister won’t go back to its pedestal: Duration 2:00

The city of Montreal has decided not to reinstall a statue of John A. Macdonald that was pulled down by protesters in 2020. The city says it will now be restored and put on display somewhere else with extra information explaining its historical significance and controversy.

Click on the following link to view the video:

Michael Rice, a Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) historical consultant, high school teacher and native studies specialist, said the statue’s removal won’t change much. The continued damage of Macdonald’s policies was still being felt today, he said, and, ultimately, Canada needs a reckoning with its cultural heroes.

“You can remove the statue, put him somewhere else, you can put plaques, or commission artists to put information on the plaque but you’re missing a learning opportunity,” he said.

“I think the bigger issue is: do Canadians from coast to coast want to have that discussion about Sir John A. Macdonald, his role? I’m not personally a fan of removing statues of anybody. I think if anybody wants to put up a statue of somebody who’s a cultural hero, so be it as long as you can justify it. … But I do think people need to have a discussion of ‘who are your cultural heroes?'”

A city worker begins cleaning the statue of Sir John A. Macdonald after it was vandalized in Montreal, Friday, August 17, 2018. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Ronald Rudin, a professor emeritus at Concordia University’s history department who had called for the statue to be replaced, called the city’s announcement “good news.” 

The decision to build the monument to Macdonald was made in the 1890s without public consultation, largely championed by friends of Macdonald who had benefited from his economic policies, Rudin said. 

By contrast, he added, the decision to remove the monument was done by a committee of experts, with input from the public and voted on by elected officials. The process was “a whole lot more democratic than the process that took place in the 1890s,” he said. “So we’re not re-writing history, in fact, we’re drawing attention to all the dimensions of history.”

Now, the city has an opportunity to repurpose the statue’s ornate pedestal and stone canopy to “create something new that somehow speaks to Macdonald’s legacy,” Rudin said, “and possibly gives an opportunity to the various communities that were disadvantaged by his policies to tell their story.”


Matthew Lapierre, Journalist

Matthew Lapierre is a digital journalist at CBC Montreal. He previously worked for the Montreal Gazette and the Globe and Mail. You can reach him at

With files from Paula Dayan-Perez, Justin Hayward and The Canadian Press