A business improvement area is demanding that Toronto remove a bronze statue in the city’s gay village because it says it represents a man linked to an organization that created a residential school.
In a letter dated Tuesday to Mayor John Tory, the Church-Wellesley Village BIA says the statue of Alexander Wood should be removed as soon as possible because Wood was the treasurer and a founding member of an organization called the “Society for Converting and Civilizing the Indians and Propagating the Gospel Among Destitute Settlers in Upper Canada.”
That organization raised money for the “St. John’s Missionary to the Ojibway 1832,” which became the Shingwauk Industrial Home in 1873, a two-storey wooden structure in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. and later the Shingwauk Residential School, the letter says.
“I think he’s a problematic figure in our past whom we don’t need to pay homage to,” Christopher Hudspeth, chair of the BIA, said in an interview on Tuesday.
“I think we’re uncovering a bit of our dark Canadian history, but it’s time for change. It’s time to do something right.”
Hudspeth said he researched Wood’s background in the Toronto Public Library archives, which has the minutes of the society’s meetings.
The statue is on the northwest corner of Church and Alexander streets in Toronto. Wood is immortalized wearing a long coat and holding a top hat and gloves in one hand and a walking stick in the other.
The BIA’s demand comes after a statue of Egerton Ryerson was toppled on Sunday night at Ryerson University following a rally and march in downtown Toronto. The protesters were honouring 215 children whose remains were discovered on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in B.C.
Ryerson is considered an architect of the residential school system. His statue was vandalized and splattered with red paint before it was pulled down and the head removed.
The BIA board decided unamimously to call for Wood’s statue to come down.
In the letter, Hudspeth says the Shingwauk Residential School, which closed in 1978, was part of a residential school system designed to stop Indigenous people from hunting and gathering.
Wood ‘contributed’ to cultural genocide, BIA says
In a news release on Tuesday, Hudspeth said forcing Indigenous children to go to residential school “contributed to the cultural genocide of Indigenous People in Canada.”
“Facing problems of the past and the truth of what we as settlers have done is difficult. In order to begin to heal we have to stand in the truth and feel uncomfortable,” Hudspeth said in the release.
“We, as a BIA, need to look long and hard at ourselves as we examine our next steps and how we got to this place. With the finding of 215 Indigenous children in unmarked graves on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, Indigenous issues are rightly being amplified and we are finally waking up,” he continued.
“The reality we’re waking up to is a hard truth about how the actions of Alexander Wood contributed to the genocide of Indigenous People in Canada.”
In the letter and release, the BIA says it is committed to addressing racism in the village by ensuring that its board receives the city’s training on confronting anti-Black racism by December 2021 and receive Indigenous teachings around the history of anti-Indigenous racism and residential schools in Canada by February 2022.
It also pledges to acknowledge publicly the damage done to Indigenous culture, apologize for putting the statute in place and use the space for a project that is “2 Spirit-advised.” The project’s cost is to be shared by the BIA and the city and planning is expected to begin this fall.
“Leaving the statue in place would send a clear message to our 2-Spirit community that racism is being allowed to continue — and in fact being iconized — in Toronto,” the letter reads.
Wood’s statue, erected in May 2005, cost $200,000.
Wood also known as ‘gay pioneer’
Wood, a magistrate, was involved in a sex scandal in 1810, fled to Scotland but returned to Canada within two years, according to the plaque below the statue. He allegedly inspected the genitals of young militiamen at Fort York while investigating a rape.
“We would also like to acknowledge the problem of the myth of Alexander Wood using his position of power to sexually assault soldiers. This is especially relevant at a time when sexual assault and harassment is coming to light in Canada’s military,” Hudspeth said in the release.
The plaque describes Wood as a “militia officer, businessman, public servant, justice of the peace, gay pioneer.”