'It stopped me in my tracks': Victoria Park’s Queen Victoria statue covered in red paint

As Canada’s colonialist past comes under increased scrutiny on Canada Day, a symbol of that era has been defaced in Kitchener.

A statue of Queen Victoria in Victoria Park was discovered to be doused with red paint on Thursday.

“As soon as I saw it, it stopped me in my tracks,” said Julia Maier, who was driving through the park when she spotted the statue. 

Many others stopped to take in the striking visual of Queen Victoria covered in red paint, with some saying it sends a strong message as the nation marked Canada Day.

“At first a bit shocked, but then I’m not shocked, considering the amount of unmarked graves we’re now discovering. A lot of people are very upset,” said Ian Graham. 

The sight also brought up emotions for some, as the dark history of the country’s colonial past is brought to light.

“It creates an awareness. It’s shocking and it just makes you stop and really think,” said Maier. 

The incident takes place as a growing number of unmarked graves sites are discovered near residential schools across the county.

“The City is aware of the paint on the Queen Victoria statue. Unfortunately, acts of vandalism in Kitchener, including Victoria Park, are not new. The City of Kitchener takes vandalism seriously and staff will be responding to repair the damage per our normal practice,” said a spokesperson for the City of Kitchener in a statement to CTV News.

That sentiment is shared by others in Victoria Park who say that defacing figures from our past won’t change our present.

“I’m not sure what this really accomplishes, other than people venting their frustrations,” said John Warkentin. 

"I think now that we’ve brought out all of our truths, it’s time for reconciliation. this is not reconciliation, this is revenge. This is nasty,” commented Mel Taylor.

City staff were on hand Friday morning cleaning off the base of the statue, but say they'll need different equipment to reach the top half.

"Vandalism is sad," one resident said Friday morning. "I live near this park. It's sad seeing something like that and it did spark a conversation, but at the same time we've been talking about this for a while and I think doing it in this way wasn't necessary."

Waterloo regional police say they are aware of the incident, are investigating, and are asking anyone who might have seen what happened to contact them.

On Friday, plans to clean up were hampered when a man climbed on the statue and would not come down for about seven hours until around 4 p.m.

Members of the Healing of the Seven Generations came to the site, with the firekeeper from the Kitchener Indigenous group helping to talk the man down.

The firekeeper said he doesn't condone the red paint because it does not reflect good behaviour, but added many other Indigenous community members feel it represents an honest conversation about Canada's history.

"The oppression of so many racialized people not just across Turtle Island but in other places as well as all over the plant, I think it's a conversation that's long overdue," said Amy Smoke, manager of the Waterloo Indigenous Student Centre.

Some members of the Indigenous community said discussions about vandalized statues should not overshadow the discovery of thousands of unmarked graves at residential school sites across the country.

"That's a bigger conversation than property damage to a statue," Smoke said.

OTHER STATUES VANDALISED

Other monuments seen as representative of Canada's colonial history were also targeted in Winnipeg on Thursday.

Statues of Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II were pulled down by protestors at the Manitoba legislature.

Just over a year ago, a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald in Wilmot Township was covered in red paint. It was cleaned up, but then doused again. 

The statue was eventually put into storage after demonstrations calling for its removal, due to Macdonald's role in establishing the residential school system.

Now, the First Peoples Group tasked with determining its future is recommending an end to the plan to put up statues of all of Canada's Prime Ministers, a recommendation that Wilmot Township council will review next week.