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A look at prominent Canadian figures who've recently sparked controversy

Last Updated Aug 24, 2017 at 11:00 am PDT

Sir John A. Macdonald is shown in an undated photo. An elementary teachers' union in Ontario has issued a call to remove the name of Canada's first prime minister from schools in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/National Archives of Canada

An elementary teachers’ union in Ontario has issued a call to remove the name of Canada’s first prime minister from schools in the province. The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario said it wants Sir John A. MacDonald’s name pulled because of what it calls his role as the “architect of genocide against Indigenous Peoples.” Macdonald was prime minister during the time the federal government approved the first residential schools in the country.

The call comes as a number of other figures from Canadian history have recently been scrutinized. Here are five such cases:

Hector-Louis Langevin

Until recently, the Prime Minister’s offices were housed in a building known as the Langevin Block, named after Hector-Louis Langevin, a father of Confederation and an architect of the residential school system. The name of the building was changed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in light of Langevin’s legacy: as minister of public works, Langevin argued that a separate school system for Indigenous youth was needed to assimilate them into Canadian culture. Several Indigenous MPs had asked for the name of the building to be changed last February and, in June, their request was granted. The building is now called the Office of the Prime Minister and the Privy Council.

Egerton Ryerson

Ontario’s public education system owes its beginnings to Egerton Ryerson but he is also believed to have helped shape residential school policy through his ideas on education for Indigenous children. An Indigenous students’ group and the Ryerson Students Union have called for Toronto’s Ryerson University to change its name out of respect for residential school survivors. The groups have also called for the removal of a statue of Ryerson that currently stands on campus. The university has acknowledged that Ryerson’s ideas contributed to the residential school system, but it hasn’t changed its name or removed the statue.

Edward Cornwallis

As governor of Nova Scotia, Edward Cornwallis founded Halifax in 1749. A bronze status in his honour stands in one of the city’s parks. But Cornwallis is also known for levying a “bounty” on the scalps of Mi’kmaq people after an attack on European colonists in the area. Mi’kmaq groups have long argued that the statue should be removed, and have called his actions a form of genocide against Indigenous peoples. Members of the Nova Scotia Assembly of Mi’kmaq Chiefs agree that the statue should come down.

Matthew Begbie

Judge Matthew Begbie’s statue once stood outside the Law Society of British Columbia. The former judge was known for ordering the hanging of six War Chiefs of the Tsilhqot’in Nation in 1864 for murder. Chief Joe Alphonse of the Nation said the chiefs were defending their territory and traditional way of life against a foreign aggressor — colonial Europeans — and continued to honour them. The Law Society announced last April that it would remove the statue, calling it a negative symbol of the province’s colonial past. But Begbie’s name still adorns several public spaces in B.C.

Paul de Chomedey

An engraving on a Bank of Montreal building in Montreal’s Place D’Armes square notes that Paul de Chomedey, sieur de Maisonneuve, killed an Iroquois chief with his bare hands in 1644. It sits just across the street from de Chomedey’s statue, a popular tourist attraction in the city. The engraving has sparked anger from an Indigenous high school teacher, who told The Canadian Press that another marker should be mounted to emphasize that the chief was defending his territory. A spokeswoman has said the bank will remove the engraving, pending approval from the Quebec government.