Headstone of former Canadian prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King defaced in Toronto

·4 min read

The granite headstone at the grave of former Canadian prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King in Toronto has been defaced.

Toronto police are investigating and said the offence is considered to be mischief over $5,000. No one has yet been arrested for the vandalism that was first discovered on Jan. 3 at Mount Pleasant Cemetery.

King's name was chiselled out of the granite monument and a photo ceramic image of him on a Parks Canada historical plaque was scratched off.

"Looking at the damage that was done, it would appear that it was deliberate on the granite," Rick Cowan, assistant vice-president of marketing and communications for the Mount Pleasant Group, said on Saturday.

"Whoever did this would have had to have come prepared to do that damage."

Security officers discovered the damage to the headstone, known as a ledger grave marker, and the Mount Pleasant Group notified the police and Parks Canada on Jan. 4.

King, who lived from 1874 to 1950, was prime minister three times — from December 1921 to June 1926, September 1926 to August 1930 and October 1935 to November 1948.

'Extremely disappointing,' cemetery representative says

Cowan said he was saddened when he found out about the vandalism and said it marked the first time that King's gravesite has been damaged. Cowan called it "pointless" and "immature," and said he is not sure what is gained by such damage.

"It's extremely disappointing that there are individuals who are predisposed to doing this kind of thing," Cowan said.

"It appears to be completely senseless. Again, it's sad that this type of thing does exist. I couldn't tell you what the motivations are."

Cowan said the vandalism seemed "quite random" and the cemetery did not receive any indication that the vandalism was going to happen. He added it will probably not be repaired until April this year.

"It's difficult to make reason out of something that seems unreasonable," he said.

Cowan said the vandalism is not a way to resolve issues.

Ben Buchanan
Ben Buchanan

King not in the news right now, historian says

Dr. Julie Gilmour, a historian and independent scholar who has a PhD from the University of Toronto, said she found the defacing to be surprising and the motive behind it is not clear. Gilmour has studied King's policies in the early 20th century before he was prime minister and in the middle of 20th century when he was prime minister.

"He hasn't been in the news lately," she said. "It surprised me that anyone in the public would care enough to vandalize his monument right now. Nobody on Twitter is talking about Mackenzie King right now. It's all about John A. Macdonald."

Gilmour, who wrote a book about the former prime minister entitled Trouble on Main Street: Mackenzie King, Reason, Race and the 1907 Vancouver Riots, said King designed immigration policies that showed he did not trust immigrants to assimilate into a Canadian way of life.

"Mackenzie King was prime minister for an awful lot of our 20th century. He was an important part of the civil service before he was prime minister. He was prime minister in the '20s, then he had a bit of a gap, and then he was prime minister again in the '30s until 1948," she said.

Gilmour said he is considered the most famous Liberal prime minister of all time in Canadian history and she said it is possible the person who did the defacing is making a statement either against racism or against Liberalism.

"It wasn't clear to me if his monument was defaced because he was a Liberal or because he was a racist," she said.

"He reflected all of the complicated prejudices and racist ideas that were prevalent in his time. Sometimes his policies reflected those but they were always reflected through those. We can't escape race when we talk about Prime Minister Mackenzie King."

Canadian Press
Canadian Press

Gilmour noted that one of his most controversial decisions during his time as prime minister was that the Canadian government did not allow the docking of the MS St. Louis, a ship carrying Jewish refugees from Europe in June 1939, just prior to the outbreak of the Second World War.

Gilmour said King feared "social disorder" within Canada if he allowed the ship to dock. She said the decision is seen as shocking today because it was an anti-Semitic act.

"There's no doubt in my mind that he had racist views towards people of colour and Jewish immigrants," she said.

His personal diary, which was published, captures those racist views, she noted.

As for his immigration policies, Gilmour said King "made choices that were really hard for people and really hard for people for a long time. I welcome an opportunity to talk about him in a complicated way. We should be talking about these guys."

Anyone with information about the defacing is urged to call Toronto police's 53 Division.