Statue of Edward Cornwallis

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Statue of Edward Cornwallis
For establishing Halifax and British rule of law
Unveiled June 22, 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. Cornwallis was the Governor of Nova Scotia from 1749–1752, when Halifax was founded. Since the 1980s, the existence of a statue of Cornwallis in a public space in Halifax has generated significant controversy. 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] There have been recent proposals to remove the statue from the park and the City of Halifax is studying the issue.


The statue was made by J. Massey Rhind and unveiled on June 22, 1931, on the 182nd anniversary of Cornwallis' arrival to Halifax as Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia. The statue was paid for primarily as a tourism endeavor by Canadian National Railway, who also paid for the statue of the fictional character Evangeline to promote tourism. Cornwallis was given the title "Founder of Halifax".[2]

Statue symbolism[edit]

Historian John G. 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"[2] 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."[2] 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. The 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.[4]

Recent discussions about the statue's removal[edit]

Since the 1980s, the most notable advocate for the removal of the Cornwallis statue from a public space has been Daniel N. Paul, author of the book We Were Not the Savages. Paul has suggested renaming the park Donald Marshall Jr. Memorial Park and replacing the statue with one of Donald Marshall Jr., wrongly convicted of murder in his youth and a fighter for the rights of the Mi’kmaq people.[5]

Reid identifies that Paul's work, along with historians from the 1980s onward, helped to highlight the violence that the British used in the colonizing process.[6] 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."[1]

Reid rejects some commentators’ assertions that Cornwallis was involved in genocide and other comparisons made to Nazi Germany. Reid acknowledges that there is virtually no evidence that Cornwallis killed many Mi'kmaq.[7] Reid argues that, even after Cornwallis left, the Mi'kmaw signed the Halifax Treaties from a position of military power, not defeat, as allegations of genocide suggests.[7][8] There was also a long history of British governors making proclamations against the Mi'kmaq for their raids on British settlements.[9] Cornwallis followed New England's example when, after the Raid on Dartmouth (1749), he created a banishment proclamation that put a bounty on Mi'kmaq men, offering money to kill or take them prisoner (1749). Unlike other Governors before and after him, however, Cornwallis did not include a bounty to kill women and children. In March 1750, Cornwallis was explicit about offering a 10-pound reward for Mi'kmaw women and children only if they were taken prisoner.[10]

Reid states that "historical memory can and should evolve with each succeeding generation…"[2] 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 (e.g., the Cornwallis Junior High School which was renamed to Halifax Central Junior High).

Halifax City Councillor Waye 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.[11]

In April 2017, the city council voted to appoint an expert panel which would include Mi’kmaq representatives to recommend a way forward to deal with commemorations of Cornwallis in the city.[12] During the Halifax Regional Council meeting, on July 18th, 2017, an account from the group called Removing Cornwallis was read by Mayor Mike Savage, with respect to the group's Declaration for a Call to Action. [13]

The covered statue on July 15, 2017

On July 1, 2017, a mourning ceremony was held at the Cornwallis statue site in Halifax. It was a ceremony to remember the missing indigenous women. It was disrupted by five members of the Canadian Armed Forces, calling themselves members of the right-wing Proud Boys. The five were suspended from the Forces and the Forces' leadership apologized. The incident was used to amplify Dan Paul's allegations against Cornwallis and to support the argument that, despite the wording of the Halifax Treaties, the Mi'kmaw never surrendered to the British and that Nova Scotia is unceded Mi'kmaq lands.[14] On July 15, a group of protesters arrived at the site with the intention of removing the statue. The City of Halifax arrived, covering up the statue with a black tarpaulin. The shroud covered the statue for the duration of when the protesters were at the scene. The City crew removed their covering. However, an orange tarpaulin was attached to the statue to obscure it, later that evening.[15]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b Reid, p. 36.
  2. ^ a b c d Reid, p. 38.
  3. ^ Reid, p. 33.
  4. ^ Reid, p. 32.
  5. ^ Daniel N. Paul (August 5, 2009). "A Tribute to Donald Marshall Jr". NB Media Co-op. Retrieved August 25, 2017. 
  6. ^ Reid, p. 35.
  7. ^ a b "Colonel John Gorham's Account Book". Nova Scotia Archives. Retrieved August 26, 2017. 
  8. ^ "European settlers sought ‘genocide’ on Mi’kmaq: historian" by Kathryn Blaze Carlson, National Post, September 16, 2011.
  9. ^ Drake (1870), p. 134
  10. ^ See Instructions to Cobb, 1750, RG1.
  11. ^ Mason, Waye (May 28, 2014). "Statement on Cornwallis Park and Cornwallis Statue". Retrieved August 25, 2017. 
  12. ^ "Halifax mayor speaks out against protesters' plan to remove Cornwallis statue". The Globe and Mail. The Canadian Press. July 11, 2017. Retrieved July 18, 2017. 
  13. ^ "Halifax Regional Council Action Summary" (PDF). 
  14. ^ "Military's response to 'Proud Boys' clash at Mi'kmaq protest is 'a great step forward': activist". CTV News. July 5, 2017. Retrieved July 14, 2017. 
  15. ^ "'Offensive and disgraceful': Protesters cheer as City of Halifax shrouds Cornwallis statue". CBC News. July 15, 2017. 


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

External links[edit]