As controversy over the views of Canada's first prime minister continues to brew, the Confederation Players say they intend to broaden the story of Confederation by including the perspectives of some previously underrepresented voices.
"We won't stop telling the story of Sir John A. Macdonald and other historical figures, but we will move away from a sort of blind position of reverence and we will move to more of a truth-telling of a broader look at the stories," said Steve Bellamy, CEO of the Confederation Centre for the Arts.
Roaming actors portray Canada's founders
Each summer, the troupe calls attention to the story of Canada's birth for crowds of visiting tourists. Actors dressed in period costumes from the 1860s roam the streets of historic downtown Charlottetown playing the roles of various Fathers of Confederation and members of their entourage.
That includes an actor taking on the role of Macdonald, the man who would go on to become the new country's first leader.
'We have to shift our identity as an institution from one where we're merely revering the Fathers of Confederation, which isn't appropriate anymore, to one of heritage and story-telling in a more fulsome way.' — Steve Bellamy, Confederation Centre
Macdonald is now also widely recognized as the architect of residential schools, which separated Indigenous children from their parents and led to abuse and problems that have festered for more than a century. A statue of him portrayed on a bench in Charlottetown was defaced with red paint on June 18, and city councillors faced calls to have the bench removed.
Bellamy said that even before the furor, there had been a desire to expand the story to include the voices of those who don't always appear in tellings of the Confederation story, including women, Indigenous groups and people of colour who played key roles.
"We have to shift our identity as an institution from one where we're merely revering the Fathers of Confederation, which isn't appropriate anymore, to one of heritage and storytelling in a more fulsome way," Bellamy said.
Due to public health restrictions put in place because of COVID-19, the players are not performing their roles in public yet this tourism season. Instead, they are taking this additional time to develop a research program where members of underrepresented communities will be consulted and contribute to the research and proper training of the players.
Over the years, the scripts have been adapted to include stories that revolve around the railroad and relationships with Indigenous groups, said Bellamy, but the catalyst for this new program was the release of last year's strategic plan. One of its pillars was engaging diverse communities.
Other conversations underway
Though Charlottetown council decided to leave the statue of Macdonald as it is on Victoria Row, councillors committed to an open dialogue with Indigenous groups such as L'nuey — an initiative focused on protecting, preserving and implementing the constitutionally-entrenched rights of the Mi'kmaq of P.E.I.
Members of the Black Cultural Society of P.E.I. have also called upon the Legislative Assembly to do an extensive review of all provincial legislation and policies applicable to education, well-being, health care and job security through a racially-focused lens. A petition urging the review garnered more than 2,200 signatures in one week.
Bellamy said the Confederation Players are reaching out to several groups on the Island, including the Mi'kmaq Confederacy, L'nuey, the Native Council of P.E.I., the Black Cultural Society of P.E.I., historians and representatives with the Acadian community and the Prince Edward Island Museum and Heritage Foundation.
The centre said a representative from L'nuey and several historians have confirmed their involvement.
Bellamy hopes to have the next performance ready for August.
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