Board to Reconsider Whitton Honour

Published: September 13th 2010
in News » Local

Former Ottawa Mayor Charlotte Whitton
Pic: file photo

The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada have decided to reconsider its recommendation to recognize Charlotte Whitton, Ottawa’s first female mayor as a person of “national historical significance.” She served from 1951 to 1956 and again from 1960 to 1964. The recommendation to Parks Canada to honour Whitton, also the first female mayor of a major Canadian city, will be reevaluated after objections from the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC).


The main concern of the CJC regarding Whitton is the role she played in keeping orphaned Jewish children out of Canada during the Second World War, while she was serving as the director of the Canadian Council on Child Welfare (CCCW). Many believe that these actions were attributed to her anti-Semitic views. 


“There were many people back then who were anti-Semitic, and held anti-Semitic views. If that was just the case [with Whitton], one could possibly overlook it,” said Bernie Farber, CEO of the CJC. “The difference with Charlotte Whitton, is she acted on her anti-Semitic views. By acting on it, she damned Jewish children, and as a result those Jewish children were not able to seek shelter here.”


Since 1920, there have been a total of 648 Canadians that have been formally recognized for their historic significance. The possibility of Whitton’s nomination was discussed at the Historic Sites and Monuments Board meeting in June. The outcome of the board’s recommendation will now remain confidential until Jim Prentice, the minister responsible for Parks Canada, reviews it.


The board’s recommendation has reportedly not reached the minister’s office as of yet. “My understanding is that they [the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada] received supplementary information about a week ago, and they’re considering that information before they make their recommendation,” said Bill Rodgers, a spokesperson for Prentice. According to Marie-Josée Lemieux, the board’s executive secretary, the “supplementary information” was supplied by the CJC.


Lemieux says the board will now have to reconsider its earlier recommendation at a future meeting, however the final decision could still be nearly a year away. The board, which meets in camera, has two meetings per year, with the next being October. “The agenda is already full,” said Lemieux, noting that she “can’t tell at this point” whether or not the Charlotte Whitton controversy will be discussed at this meeting. The board will not meet again afterwards until June 2011.


Despite having been a Conservative party candidate, Whitton is not seen as “an icon” of the Harper government, says Bob Plamondon, an Ottawa author who has written two books about the Conservative party’s history. “I don’t think they have any sense of loyalty towards her in terms of maintaining a legacy and an image. I think they would prefer not to step into what seems to be a divisive nomination.”

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