A day after her statue was toppled, it fell to a kayaker to collect the severed bronze head of Queen Victoria from the shallow waters of the Assiniboine River.

A day after her statue was toppled, it fell to a kayaker to collect the severed bronze head of Queen Victoria from the shallow waters of the Assiniboine River.

It was a final indignity to the century-old landmark on the grounds of the Manitoba Legislative Building in the wake of a Canada Day protest that sent shockwaves across the country and overseas.

Moments before a rope was used Thursday to pull the statue off its pedestal, Queen Victoria sat in repose on her throne, staring over hundreds of orange flags stuck in the lawn that signified the growing number of unmarked graves of children who attended residential schools.

Later, a more recent statue of Queen Elizabeth on the grounds of the Winnipeg home of Lt.-Gov. Janice Filmon was also toppled. It was a series of emotional fireworks on a day Canadians were encouraged not to celebrate, but to reflect on the legacy of residential schools.

Kayaker Tom Armstrong fishes the head of the Queen Victoria statue from the Assiniboine River Friday.

KELLY GERALDINE MALONE / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Kayaker Tom Armstrong fishes the head of the Queen Victoria statue from the Assiniboine River Friday.

A police investigation is now underway. Manitoba's premier condemned what he called vandalism, adding those responsible will be pursued actively.

While the incident made international headlines and even triggered a response from the British prime minister, Manitoba's Indigenous leaders stopped short of condemning those whose actions were captured in videos posted on social media.

"MKO (representing northern First Nations) does not condone violence. I have reached out to Winnipeg chief of police Danny Smyth to let him know we do not condone violence. We want to continue to work on relationships with our partners and we hope for continued dialogue around the ongoing legacy of residential schools… Destruction of material things are nothing compared to the deliberate destruction of life and culture," said Pimicikamak Cree Nation Chief David Monias.

"Material things are replaceable, but lives aren’t," he said.

"Hiding our children’s remains and not returning them and not telling us where they are buried is even more damaging and we have to work on returning these children’s remains home. Let’s find them and help us find them. I don’t support violence, but our people are hurt."

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>The statue of Queen Victoria was pulled down and covered in red handprints by protesters calling on the country to reflect on its racist history on Canada Day, a movement spurred on by the ongoing discoveries of unmarked children's graves at the sites of former residential schools. </p></p>

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The statue of Queen Victoria was pulled down and covered in red handprints by protesters calling on the country to reflect on its racist history on Canada Day, a movement spurred on by the ongoing discoveries of unmarked children's graves at the sites of former residential schools.

Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas told the Free Press he was "shocked and disappointed" to hear of the incident at the legislature, noting he was at the "No Pride in Genocide" event and did not witness the statues coming down.

"The young people, the people who chose to express themselves the way that they did at the legislature, it comes from a place of hurt, it comes from a place of grief, it comes from a place of anger," he said Friday. "And we have to make sure that we’re supportive and we figure out how we can address this issue."

Vandalism is in the eye of the beholder

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A statue of Queen Elizabeth is seen overturned and vandalized at the provincial legislature in Winnipeg on Friday. (Kelly Geraldine Malone / The Canadian Press)
A statue of Queen Elizabeth is seen overturned and vandalized at the provincial legislature in Winnipeg on Friday. (Kelly Geraldine Malone / The Canadian Press)

Posted: 7:00 PM Jul. 2, 2021

Five years ago, a group of Indigenous and non-Indigenous volunteers in Manitoba got together to bring attention to an incredible wrong.

At the Manitoba legislature, the group pointed out, there was no statue commemorating First Nations in the province. Virtually everyone else, including the Métis nation (honoured in 1973 with a statue of Louis Riel), is recognized.

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Ideally, there would have been more cultural advisers and Indigenous leaders on site to provide support to those in pain, Dumas said, adding he’d be willing to collaborate on a replacement statue that would be more "reflective of what Manitoba is today."

"Maybe if we took away these colonial monikers, or at least added more culturally appropriate ones, we’d be able to move forward in a better way," he said.

Aside from the attacks on the two statues, Thursday's protest was largely non-violent and there were no reported injuries. One arrest was made not directly linked to the protest: a 51-year-old man was charged with mischief after vandalizing a private vehicle.

"There was no violence going on towards other people, it was largely property — in this case statues — that were being damaged," Smyth said at a news conference Friday.

Previous reports that police used a stun gun on one man after the statue was pulled down were false, Winnipeg Police Service Const. Rob Carver told the Free Press.

"No one was tased regarding the toppling of the statues. Absolutely not."

The statue of Queen Elizabeth, on the east side of the Manitoba Legislative Building, was also toppled off its base on Canada Day.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The statue of Queen Elizabeth, on the east side of the Manitoba Legislative Building, was also toppled off its base on Canada Day.

While Smyth was critical of what he called "a volatile situation that was started by a small number of individuals," the police chief said officers chose not to intervene to avoid inciting protesters.

"The risk to any of us gathering is that there might be some within the crowd who have different agenda, and that is what we witnessed at the end of the afternoon," he said.

However, Smyth said some officers were spit on, and police cars were struck with rocks.

Police will be investigating, but Smyth said he couldn’t estimate what type of charges may result.

A sign is surrounded with children's shoes on the steps of the Manitoba Legislative Building Friday.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

A sign is surrounded with children's shoes on the steps of the Manitoba Legislative Building Friday.

Premier Brian Pallister was fairly blunt in his brief statement, issued Friday morning.

"The actions by individuals to vandalize public property at the Manitoba Legislative Building July 1 are unacceptable. They are a major setback for those who are working toward real reconciliation and do nothing to advance this important goal," Pallister said.

"Those who commit acts of violence will be pursued actively in the courts. All leaders in Manitoba must strongly condemn acts of violence and vandalism, and at the same time, we must come together to meaningfully advance reconciliation."

NDP Leader Wab Kinew also issued a statement Friday, calling out "the actions of some."

"For the most part, yesterday was a day of unity, commemoration and healing for all Manitobans," Kinew said. "However, the actions of some at the legislature were wrong. These acts of destruction do not further reconciliation and we unequivocally condemn violence.

"We support those who continue to work peacefully towards reconciliation."

The incident made headlines around the world, including international outlets such as Al Jazeera and the Guardian.

British newspaper the Independent reported Prime Minister Boris Johnson criticized the toppling of the statue in Winnipeg. A spokesman was quoted as saying Johnson "condemned any defacing of statues of the Queen."

— with files from Danielle Da Silva

malak.abas@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: malakabas_

Malak Abas

Malak Abas
Reporter

Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.