An Access to Information Act request has shown that Parks Canada is proposing the revision of plaques deemed "colonialist,” Blacklocks Reporter has discovered.
“All plaques will need to be reviewed by the historians and most likely go through vetting,” reads one of the released memos. The memos mentioned three Canadians in particular who "need to be reviewed" due to complaints lodged by staff and members of the public.
One of the plaques commemorates Goldwin Smith, a journalist and academic who founded two now-defunct newspapers in Canada. The email concerns Smith's anti-Semitism. Smith would refer to Jews as "parasites" and believed a number of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.
Another plaque mentioned in the memos is dedicated to Duncan Campbell Scott, a Canadian poet and lifetime public servant in the Department of Indian Affairs who played a key role in promoting the "assimilation" of Indigenous people through the use of residential schools. Scott was most widely recognized in his own time for his poetry, which lead him to become president of the Canadian Royal Society in 1921.
Scott's contribution to Canadian poetry is immense and unquestioned. Some of his work also reveals his own personal struggle with government policies towards Indigenous people, displaying admiration their way of life and their poetry. According to the National Library of Canada, "Scott's widely recognized and valued 'Indian poems' cemented his literary reputation. In these poems, the reader senses the conflict that Scott felt between his role as an administrator committed to an assimilation policy for Canada's Native peoples and his feelings as a poet, saddened by the encroachment of European civilization on the Indian way of life."
The plaque at Scott's grave in Ottawa was revised in 2015. While the plaque formerly focused almost entirely on his contribution to Canadian poetry, it now reads "Scott oversaw the assimilationist Indian Residential School system for Aboriginal children, stating his goal was 'to get rid of the Indian problem. In its 2015 report, Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission said that the Indian Residential School system amounted to cultural genocide."
The final plaque mentioned for revision in the memos belongs to Dr. Helen MacMurchy, a Canadian doctor who's commitment to eugenics has placed her under scrutiny. The historical record suggests that she was responsible for the sterilization of many women considered to be "feeble-minded."
Dr. MacMurchy also made a number of contributions to maternal health, heavily promoting bottle sterilization, pasteurization, and handwashing when such practices were less common. She wrote a book on motherhood entitled the Little Blue Book, encouraging practices such as good hygiene and breastfeeding.
Parks Canada is not the only government agency which seeks to revise plaques and monuments. The federal cabinet in 2019 sought the revision over over 2000 plaques across Canada to address “colonialism, patriarchy and racism,” while the Historic Sites and Monuments Board argued “[nothing] can be immune from review. Every designation can be re-evaluated" in a document titled Careful Review of Existing Designations.
Other revised plaques include a plaque to Treaty 1, a pivotal document in the establishment of Manitoba whereby Indigenous tribes agreed to cede the territory of southern Manitoba. The plaque was changed to highlight the "generosity," "peace and goodwill" of Indigenous tribes in ceding the land.
Not all revisions were met with support from Parks Canada staff, however. A plaque at Prince Edward Island's Rocky Point fort commemorates the removal of the local Acadian population as "one of the most tragic of all the Acadian deportations.”
A Parks Canada manager complained that the new plaque is subjective and inaccurate, arguing "it is like saying the bombing of Coventry was ‘one of the most tragic’ of World War Two. Liverpool? Berlin? What made it so? There is no room for context and my preference would be to strike it.”