The toppling of a Gastown statue honouring Vancouver’s first saloon keeper was done without the consent of the Squamish Nation, which had already reached an agreement with the City of Vancouver to remove the statue because of troubling details about the man’s life.
John “Gassy Jack” Deighton was 40 years old at the time of his wedding to a 12-year-old Squamish girl named Quahail-ya.
The two had one child together before she found the courage to run away from the relationship after less than three years.
On Monday, during the annual Women’s Memorial March through the Downtown Eastside, a group of people pulled the statue down and attempted to behead it, as hundreds of others roared in approval.
“I’m into it. I’m all for it. I love it,” said a woman named Daisy, who works at a nearby Gastown restaurant.
“He was a really bad, bad person. And to be in this neighbourhood, in particular, to be some kind of symbol to be looked at or admired is archaic,” added Nicole Lefaivre, who attended the march honouring missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
Deighton’s marriage to Quahail-ya is a story that has been told by Squamish Nation elders through the generations but was not well-known in the broader community.
In the past few years, calls for the statue’s removal have grown louder. One petition has garnered more than 23,000 signatures.
“I can’t imagine the empowerment that everyone felt in that moment,” said march attendee Ria Kisoun about the statue coming down.
But in acting unilaterally, the group of activists have undermined the reconciliation work already underway.
“Mayor Kennedy reached out to the nation and opened the dialogue,” said elected Squamish Nation councillor Wilson Williams. “Ever since then, we’ve taken leadership on this file and the city was fine with that.”
Wilson said the Squamish Nation needs to be at the forefront of reconciliation initiatives related to its ancestors.
The nation and city had also been in consultation with Quahail’ya’s living descendants who would have been offered the opportunity to participate in an event around the statue’s removal when details had been finalized.
“We want to be mindful and respectful and really walk softly. I always say this in my walk of life, if you don’t know, please ask. Our doors are open as Squamish people,” Wilson said.
“I know we have a lot of activist groups in First Nations circles, but you know, we’re all responsible for reconciliation and it is our duty to reach out and ensure that we are doing the proper thing in the lands where we are.”
Vancouver police have opened a mischief investigation into the toppling of the statue but no arrests have been made.
The Squamish Nation says it plans to continue working with the city and Quahail’ya’s relatives to come up with a plan for a more appropriate monument at the site where the statue stood.