Statue of Edward Cornwallis

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Statue of Edward Cornwallis
Canada
CornwallisStatueHalifaxNovaScotia.jpg
For an assertion and a resounding expression of imperial triumph
Unveiled 22 June 1931
Location Cornwallis Square
near Halifax, Nova Scotia Canada
Designed by J. Massey Rhind

The Statue of Edward Cornwallis is a statue of the military political figure Edward Cornwallis in Cornwallis Square, Halifax, Nova Scotia, opposite the Canadian National Railway station. The statue was made by J. Massey Rhind and unveiled on 22 June 1931, on the 182nd anniversary of Cornwallis' arrival to Halifax. Over the last twenty years the existence of a statue of Cornwallis in a public space in Halifax has generated significant controversy. Leading historian John G. Reid writes that the conflicting viewpoints centred on the issue of historical memory, that is, "how the past should be publicly remembered."[1] He writes that when the Cornwallis statue was created it "was an assertion and a resounding expression of imperial triumph."[2]

Reid asserts that the robust victorious looking Cornwallis statue is not supported by the historical evidence about Cornwallis. Instead, Reid asserts that the statue reflects the imperialist, colonial times of its creators in the early part of the twentieth century. Reid writes that the creation of the statue "was governed not by history but by a potent mixture of imperialism, a racially-charged triumphalism based on the savagery-civilization binary, state promotion, and an economic agenda."[3] He writes further, "The ideology that had underpinned the raising of the statue had offered a strong and positive answer to any such concerns [of imperialist conquest]- the establishment of Halifax was a triumph of civilization over savagery, and Cornwallis was the city's courageous founder"[4] During one of the speeches at the unveiling of the statue, Cornwallis was described as "a virile, strong, stand fast face with a touch of sternness in it which is usually to be found in the faces of all men who achieve - all leaders of men and all pioneers."[5]

Again, Reid's problem with this description of Cornwallis is that there is no historical evidence to support it. Instead, the historical evidence supports that Cornwallis was of frail health and that he and others would have evaluated his tenure in Halifax as a failure.[6] During the years Cornwallis was here, he and most others never left the Halifax peninsula primarily because it was unsafe to do so. The Mi'kmaq militia had effectively executed armed resistance throughout Father Le Loutre's War, preventing the British from establishing a stronghold in Mi'kma'ki. Cornwallis was unable to achieve the peace he was sent by the Board of Trade to establish with the Mi'kmaq. Equally problematic, the imperialist speeches at the unveiling of the Cornwallis statue played down the effective Mi'kmaq armed resistance, simply giving passing reference to the Mi'kmaq being obstacles to settlement.[7]

Prior to the triumphant imperialism of the early twentieth century, few Nova Scotians knew of Cornwallis. According to Reid, historians also had not treated him as an important figure. There was difficulty getting any funding for the statue from the City of Halifax and the education department refused outright to help collect money for it. The statue was paid for primarily as a tourism endeavour by Canadian National Railway, who also paid for the statue of the fictional character Evangeline to promote tourism. Through this imperialist, economic driven celebration, Cornwallis was given the title "Founder of Halifax".[8]

In the last twenty years, the loudest advocate for the removal of the Cornwallis statue from a public space was Daniel N. Paul, author of the book We Were Not the Savages. Among other historians from the 1980s onward, Reid identifies that Paul's work helped to highlight the violence that the British used in the colonizing process.[9] Despite the limitations of Paul's research, Reid suggests that Paul's work has been part of larger efforts to target Cornwallis in a symbolic manner, "representing the broader reality that colonization was not a benign process in which the significance of indigenous people was just that they were an inconvenient obstacle, but rather was an invasion and - like all invasions - was bitterly resisted."[10][11]

Reid rejects some commentators’ assertions that Cornwallis was involved in genocide, and other comparisons made to Nazi Germany. Reid recognizes that Cornwallis used standard colonial warfare, which included killing civilians, which was sanctioned by leaders on all sides of the conflict. In reference to using the term “genocide” to describe Cornwallis’ behaviour, Reid states, "I’m not sure that it’s the best way to understand 18th century realities... What happened in the 18th century is a process of imperial expansion that was ruthless at times, that cost lives…. But to my mind, you can’t just transfer concepts between centuries.” [12]

Rather than continuing to champion the a-historical imperialist triumphalism of the early twentieth century, Reid states that "historical memory can and should evolve with each succeeding generation…"[13] While there could be new public art of Cornwallis that reflects a contemporary sensibility and the complexity of the man and his legacy, ultimately, Reid indicates his support for moving the existing statue into a museum space and changing public names of buildings which simply glorify imperialist aspirations (e.g., the Cornwallis Junior High School).

Halifax City Council Wayne Mason shares a similar perspective:

“What do we do as a society with commemorative landscapes that are unrepresentative of present values?” Possible responses could include renaming the park, keeping the statue with appropriate new context, adding new artwork to the park to tell a contemporary story of our view of history, or removing the statue and replacing it with something that does the same. This is not simply a matter of renaming the park and removing the statue. We as a community may not be best served by erasing all mention of Cornwallis from the park.[14]

See also[edit]

Military history of Nova Scotia

References[edit]

Endnotes

  1. ^ Reid, p. 36
  2. ^ Reid, p. 38
  3. ^ Reid, p. 33
  4. ^ Reid, p. 38
  5. ^ Reid, p. 38
  6. ^ Reid, p. 38
  7. ^ Reid, p. 32
  8. ^ Reid, p. 38
  9. ^ Reid, p. 35
  10. ^ Reid, p. 36
  11. ^ While applauding the strengths of Paul's work, others have actually lamented that Paul continues the imperialist tradition of minimizing the effective Mi'kmaq armed resistance against the British Empire. He omits many accounts of the Mi'kmaq using standard colonial warfare (i.e., killing civilians) and labels the Mi'kmaq warriors who did as "mercenaries" and "criminals".(See Daniel Paul. No Excuse for Barbarianism. Halifax Herald. April 1, 2012 and . Halifax junior high strips Cornwallis of his rank. Globe and Mail. August 24, 2012). Reid remarks that Paul's work, "undoubtedly traveled further down the road of engaged history and even participant history than many other historians would be comfortable in going…" (See Reid, p. 36)
  12. ^ European settlers sought ‘genocide’ on Mi’kmaq: historian by Kathryn Blaze Carlson , National Post, Sep 16, 2011
  13. ^ Reid, p. 38
  14. ^ http://wayemason.ca/2014/05/28/statement-on-cornwallis-park-and-cornwallis-statue/

Texts

  • Daniel Paul. We Were Not the Savages. Fernwood Press. 1993.
  • John Reid. The Three Lives of Edward Cornwallis. Journal of the Royal Nova Scotia Historical Society. Vol. 16, 2013.

Links[edit]