No Country for Only White Men: The Dewdney Murals

Controversial Dewdney mural. It talks about Joseph Brant
selling Six Nations land to settlers.

My friend and retired counsellor, Jean Haalboom phoned me up to tell me that the Dewdney murals had been removed from the Region of Waterloo cafeteria. I was stunned. Then not surprised. The Dewdneys were originally commissioned by a local bank then eventually made their way to the region. There are also some Dewdneys depicting 1950s life that I assume are in storage at the Ken Seiling Museum.

Who gets to tell the story Article from the KW Record

The article from the Record concentrates on the role of indigenous people in the first Dewdney painting but there is another glaring absence from the later murals. Women. Despite the fact that many women worked in industry at the time, including my mother, the last mural depicting the forward movement of prosperity does not contain a single women. The mural depicting the 1900s only has a woman as a passenger in a car. There are no depictions of the huge arrival of immigrants from around the world during the 1950s, only the arrival of the Mennonites earlier. Some women with a baby were in that mural, behind the men.

I was part of the art committee that commissioned the more up to date mural with modern scenes of women and racialized citizens working and playing in modern situations. I understand that mural has not been removed, though at the time it was controversial because it showed the variety in our society and “didn’t fit” with the Dewdneys. This mural was to try to correct some of the problems with the Dewdneys, rather than removing the popular works. Yes, they were popular.

When the Region of Waterloo was developing the Ken Seiling, Region of Waterloo Museum, a black woman came as a delegation to council. She was a local teacher and asked that the history of blacks in Waterloo County be included in the museum. A number of councillors scoffed, saying there were no black settlers in Region of Waterloo history, and if there were, they were transient. She held her ground, pointing out there was a settlement in the Queen’s Bush.

Queen’s Bush

As we know now, black history in Waterloo Region is Queen’s Bush and a lot more.

Black History

Eventually, black history was included in the new museum along with a few panels about First Nations.

Good for the Region of Waterloo Museum for mounting the Dewdney exhibit. I hope they will also include an exploration of the exclusion of women and racialized people from the murals.

Despite my surprise at their removal, I agree that the Dewdneys have had their day and do not belong on the walls of the Region of Waterloo cafeteria. It is important though that they not be hidden away or destroyed. They are a part of our history and I commend the museum for mounting an exhibit. Perhaps the National Gallery of Canada could take note.

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