LAST WEEKEND’S TOPPLING of the Prime Minister John A. Macdonald statue in Montreal caused controversy across the country. There are those who decry the act as vandalism, and others who support it as justice for Macdonald’s treatment of First Nations’ peoples.
Take, for example, Kamloops’ most famous statue, of the Schuberts, set on a pedestal in front of City Hall.
The Schuberts, wife Catherine and husband Augustus, and their three children were part of the Overlanders’ expedition setting out from Fort Garry for the gold fields of Barkerville. On arrival in Kamloops, in 1862, Catherine gave birth to their fourth child.
All this is part of the statue and inscription at its base.
What isn’t on the statue is just as telling. No mention is made of the local First Nations women who helped in the birth. The survival of non-First Nations in early days of contact relied heavily on the generosity of their First Nations hosts.
While the first European woman in Kamloops is on a pedestal, there are no statues in Kamloops for the First Nation people who showed Catherine Schubert or other early Europeans hospitality.
The year 1862 was not just the date that the Overlanders arrived. Gold miners flocked to British Columbia, and with them came smallpox. It is estimated that 50% or more of First Nations in BC died from the 1862 smallpox epidemic. Not every miner brought smallpox, but some did. The statue in front of City Hall celebrates the arrival of the Overlanders, and settlers in general, in 1862, without the slightest mention of the devastation their arrival brought.
If we celebrate 1862 as a time of arrival of the settlers, why not a statue to remember those who perished from smallpox too?
There is a plaque at the bottom of the statue as well recognizing the sponsors of the statue as well. One sponsor is the law firm of Fulton and Company. Established in Kamloops in 1885, it is the longest continuously operating law firm in BC. The law firm has a long and illustrious history and has earned a well-respected place in our community. But at one point, near the start of its practice, it most certainly provided legal services for government sanctioned land transactions which gave ownership to European settlers of unceded lands of the Secwépemc people.
Fulton and Company have a place on the pedestal for their long tenure providing legal services to Kamloops. But why is there no statue or plaque in Kamloops recognizing the equally long legal fight of the Secwépemc peoples to retain their land rights, such as outlined in their 1910 Laurier Memorial?
Statues are important for helping us to remember important events, such as the arrival of the Schuberts in Kamloops. But if that is all we have, it is a narrow view, devoid of history. Remembering the Schuberts without remembering First Nations hospitality, the smallpox epidemic, or First Nations’ fight for land rights is remembering a narrow, sanitized, biased history.
It’s time we build some new statues to commemorate our history. Otherwise, there is far too much unsaid.
Nancy Bepple is a former City councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.