On Thursday, I interviewed three women who were among the organizers of Saturday’s protest in Cornwallis Park. That interview became Friday’s Examineradio podcast; you can hear it here:
I’ve long wondered why the Cornwallis statue was put up in the first place, so Friday I spent some time in the library, reading newspaper accounts of the unveiling of the statue in 1931. The result of my research was an article we published Saturday morning, “The unveiling of the Cornwallis statue in 1931 was a celebration of imperialism and warning against social unrest.”
I followed up that article with commentary via a Twitter thread, which I’ve reformatted and slightly edited as follows:
Here’s the thing: The statue didn’t go up when Cornwallis arrived in 1749. It didn’t go up when he left in 1752. The statue didn’t go up when Cornwallis died in 1776. It didn’t go up on the 100th anniversary of the founding of Halifax in 1849. The statue didn’t go up on any other nice round anniversary (divisible by 25 or 10 or even 5) of the founding of Halifax.
The statue went up on the 182nd anniversary of the founding of Halifax. Not the 179th, not the 186th.
So, the question is: Why that year in particular?
It’s impossible to explain the erection of the statue in 1931 without exploring the social, economic, and political context of the time. There was a particular need or desire for those people then, as opposed to people 10 years earlier or later, to put up the statue.
Part of it was circumstantial, sure: the railroad was providing it. But that doesn’t explain the extravagant ceremonies that went along with the unveiling, which must have cost thousands of dollars. The statue presented some cord that needed plucking in 1931.
I maintain that we can only understand that statue in terms of the economic collapse of the Depression and the very real fear among the rich and powerful that revolution was, or could easily be, in the air. The communists in the coal fields had been put down just a few years before, and there was no doubt unrest and civic strife in Halifax. When people don’t have jobs, when they can’t feed their families, they begin to look for radical solutions and upend the social order.
When I read the speeches that were given at the unveiling of the statue, I hear an underscoring of the importance of stability. Halifax was presented as a grand project of civilization, of empire, and all the social order and prosperity that comes with it.
At that very moment, people were starving in Halifax, but the speakers (and newspaper) spoke of how rich the city was and how even greater prosperity was just around the corner. If only people could hold on a few months, a few years, if only they would trust, if only they would believe in this grand project of empire, things would turn out OK.
The speakers said as much: the statue was the symbolic counter to “social unrest.”
That is, if people weren’t on board with this project of empire, civilization itself could collapse. Halifax would fall back into the wild ways of the “Indians” or the violence of the communists, they said.
So it was particularly important at that exact time to get people to recommit to the importance of order, of stability, of empire. And so that’s why the statue was put up at that time and not some other time.
As I wrote Friday, there’s nothing particularly historic about the statue, at least in comparison to the scores of truly historic buildings that have been razed without any noticeable public outcry. Demolition permits have been issued for the Elmwood Hotel right across the street from the statue; the hotel is 105 years older than the statue, but no one much seems to care.
That’s not to say the statue doesn’t give us some insight into a historic period in Halifax — the Depression, not the founding of Halifax — but the statue itself has no real historic significance, and trotting it off to a museum somewhere wouldn’t devalue what we can learn from it.
I haven’t seen even one person defend the statue on artistic grounds, for good reason: it’s imperialistic schlock. I do think, however, there’s something to be written about the sculptor. Massey Rhind was a Scot who was happy to be hired to build a monument to Cornwallis, who slaughtered a lot of Scots in the Highlands. Rhind also sculpted statues in honour of the Great Scottish poet Rabbie Burns, so maybe Rhind was conflicted. Or maybe he just wanted to make a buck. Rhind had a summer home in Chester; maybe he left some papers that reveal what he was thinking.
In any event, by the time Saturday rolled around, a compromise had been made in order to avoid the dreaded “social unrest”: a tarp was draped over the statue for the duration of the protest. (One of the speakers Saturday said the tarp would remain for a week, but it was taken off immediately afterwards.)
The statue issue isn’t going away. A report back to city council on the creation of an “expert panel” is due in September. I’m not sure why we need “experts” to tell us that a important part of our community, Indigenous people, are insulted by the statue and that it represents continued racism against them — they’ve been telling us that themselves.
Still, I hope Saturday’s protest moves the conversation along. It’s disheartening that we need to have a months-long community conversation to simply take the damn thing down, but I guess that’s what we have to do.
2. Chronicle Herald
“For the sake of the 53 reporters and editors still walking the picket line at the Halifax Chronicle Herald,” writes Stephen Kimber:
part of me hopes super-mediator/arbitrator/industrial inquiry commissioner William Kaplan is able — through an initial stage of mediation next month — to find a quick resolution to their seemingly intractable, brutish, one-year-176-days-and-counting dispute with owners Mark Lever and Sarah Dennis.
Part of me hopes.
But none of me expects.
This article is behind the Examiner’s paywall. That’s how we’re able to pay writers and sustain the Examiner without annoying pop-ups and other advertising. Click here to subscribe.
3. Tire burning
The decision to burn tires at the Lafarge cement plant in Brookfield has “reignited a dormant Canadian debate over the safety of the emissions from tire burning and the wisdom of incinerating rubber for industrial fuels, rather than recycling a spent product,” reports Michael Tutton for the Canadian Press:
In Alberta, Manitoba, Yukon and New Brunswick, there is currently no burning of scrap tires, according to the Canadian Association of Tire Recycling Agencies.
Meanwhile, in British Columbia, tire burning has declined since 1991, from 75 per cent of the total number of scrap tires to just 13 per cent today, according to Rosemary Sutton, director of Tire Stewardship B.C.
Whether fuelled by tires or other fuels, making cement is one of the biggest contributor to atmospheric greenhouse gases.
Zonkeys are being collected at an equine rescue farm on the South Shore, reports Steve Berry for the CBC.
Special Audit & Finance Standing Committee (Monday, 9:30am, City Hall) — the committee is being asked increase the budget for Cole Harbour Place by $625,000 because… well, I dunno, the city has once again redesigned its website so many of the agenda links, including this one, are broken.
Executive Standing Committee (Monday, 10am, City Hall) — the committee is moving forward with the natural persons power legislation for the city. Basically, if the province approves, this means that the city would be able to do stuff like borrow money without the province’s approval.
Accessibility Committee (Monday, 4pm, City Hall) — here’s the agenda.
North West Community Council (Monday, 7pm, Bedford-Hammonds Plains Community Centre) — here’s the agenda.
City Council (Tuesday, 10am, City Hall) — it’s an all-day meeting with lots of mundane stuff. Of note, however, is a staff recommendation that council not contribute to the operation of the “road train.” (The link to the staff report is broken, so I can’t tell you staff’s reasoning.)
The train primarily benefits one business — Murphy’s, which is owned by Dennis Campbell, who also owns Ambassatours, the bus company. As Jennifer Henderson reported for the Examiner in May (paywall):
A proposal before city council’s Grants Committee requests $50,000 for this season and about $70,000 over the next two years to operate an open-air “road train” to carry visitors from the Seaport Market and Discovery Centre at one end of Lower Water Street, past Murphy’s, to the Armour Group’s Historic Properties at the other end. The free ride would follow a route similar to the FRED bus before it was discontinued.
Campbell has already acquired the road train (“not a cheap undertaking,” he says) and is asking both municipal and provincial taxpayers to cover a large portion of its lease payments. The Waterfront Development Corporation is also currently reviewing a request to kick in some operating money. A non-profit group called the Halifax Community Road Train Society would operate the daily service.
Directors of the Road Train Society are Campbell; Mary Dempster, who is the Chief Operating Officer at Ambassatours; and Sean Buckland, the Director of Sales & Logistics at Ambassatours. Campbell is the group’s president, while Dempster serves as secretary. There are no directors or executives of the non-profit who are not associated with a Campbell-owned business.
I noticed recently that the train asks passengers for a “donation” of $2 to $5 per ride, because it’s all a big charity, see?
No meetings this month.
No public events.
Thesis Defence, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (Tuesday, 9am, Room G-36, Sir Charles Tupper Medical Building) — Carine Nzirorera will defend her thesis, “The Role of Lysophosphatidic Acid and Autotaxin in Obesity Induced Cardiac Insulin Resistance.”
In the harbour
6am: Bomar Rebecca, cargo ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Philipsburg, St. Maarten
6am: Macao Strait, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Lisbon, Portugal
7am: IT Intrepid, cable layer, arrives at Pier 9 from Port Angeles, Washington
7:45am: Maasdam, cruise ship with up to 1,510 passengers, arrives at Pier 22 from Bar Harbor
11am: Bess, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Southampton, England
11am: Dalian Highway, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
4pm: Macao Strait, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for Mariel, Cuba
5:45pm: Maasdam, cruise ship, sails from Pier 22 for Sydney
9:30pm: Bess, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
10pm: Atlantic Patriot, cargo ship, sails from Pier 31 for sea
The engagement with the Cornwallis issue on social media has been enormous — many thousands of tweets have been directed at me, with similar numbers of Facebook interactions. My email accounts are likewise overwhelmed.
Much of that interaction is positive or supportive. Other people want to veer off into weird tangents — the most important and overlooked aspect is the kind of weaponry the English used in the 18th century, or whatever. A small component of the engagement, maybe 20 per cent, is vitriolic and racist.
Regardless, it’s impossible for one person to keep up with the volume of messaging sent my way. I wouldn’t be able to keep up with it if that’s all I did. I wouldn’t be able to keep up with it if I hired a full-time person to assist. I can’t even keep up with the non-Cornwallis messaging sent my way…
Which is to say, I’m in effect pretty much ignoring everyone. I know I am getting important emails and other messages that involve things I care about and want to get into, but I don’t have the ability to find them in the mix or deal with them. I don’t know what to do about that.