Statue of man who married and impregnated a 12-year-old Indigenous girl, torn down

Indigenous journalist Chantelle Bellrichard tweets video: ‘The moment the statue came down.’

During the annual Women’s Memorial March for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Vancouver, B.C. on Monday, the statue of Gassy Jack, with ropes around its neck, came down amidst cheers and applause. 

The large bronze statue was in memoriam to John “Gassy Jack” Dieghton — a man who had married two Squamish females in his life to include a twelve-year-old Indigenous girl when he was 40. 

Diegthton, historically known in Vancouver as the “Father of Gastown” and as “Gassy Jack” due to his talkativeness, was a bar owner in the 1860s who originally came from England.

CBC Indigenous journalist Chantelle Bellrichard, who is based in Vancouver, shared the moment of the statue falling on Twitter, writing, “The moment the statue came down.”

Deighton’s statue, displayed in Gastown, has been a sore spot for Indigenous communities as is evidenced on a petition titled, Remove the Gassy Jack Statue in Gastown.

As of Tuesday, the petition has over 23,000 signatures.

The description on the petition states:

Statues are erected to honour individuals in our society. “Gassy” Jack Deighton never deserved this honour, and his likeness being displayed prominently in Gastown is a terrible symbol of Vancouver upholding and honouring violence towards and oppression of Indigenous People. Deighton took a 12 year old Squamish girl to be his wife at the age of 40, impregnating her with his child at her young age. This is not the kind of person we should be upholding and honouring, a pedophile’s likeness should not be prominently displayed in the center of Gastown for fun tourist photo ops. This is not about erasing history, but about reconciliation. It is about taking steps towards no longer upholding and enforcing violence and oppression towards the Indigenous Peoples of Turtle Island.

Quahail-ya (Madeline Deighton) at an older age (City of Vancouver Archives )

According to Squamish historians, Deighton first married a Squamish woman whose name is not known. After the woman became sick and died, Deighton married his former wife’s twelve-year-old niece, whose name was Wha-halia or Quahail-ya. Deighton impregnated the girl, who eventually ran away from her husband at age 15. Her non-Indigenous name was Madeline.

Squamish leader Cease Wyss, told the CBC, “Knowing that woman was really a girl and that she had to stand up for her rights and support herself. And that she left him of her own accord — she didn’t ask for assistance. She got up and walked out.”

Archival records from the CBC News, showing proof of Gassy Jack Deighton’s marriage to Quahail-ya are available here:

“We are concerned about unsafe actions”

Though the mood was celebratory for many in the Indigenous communities, the Squamish tribe and city officials responded with a sentiment for Indigenous communities to practice caution.

Councillor and Spokesperson Wilson Williams (Sxwfxwtn) from the Squamish Nation issued the following statement that was posted to Twitter.

“The Squamish Nation needs to lead work that involves our ancestors through respect and collaboration. In that spirit, the Squamish Nation had come to an agreement with the City of Vancouver to remove the Gassy Jack Deighton statue. The discussions were ongoing, focused on a culturally safe and respectful process that would bring dignity and healing to all involved.” 

“The Nation was in consultation with our community and the descendants of our respected ancestor Madeline – Gassy Jack’s former wife. She was a courageous woman our Nation looks up to, and today has many descendants alive in our community. We are concerned about unsafe actions that risk people’s personal safety and remain focused on supporting justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.”

The City of Vancouver also shared on social media: 

“We confirm that the city of Vancouver is committed to reconciliation and understands that the Gassy Jack statue as a symbol of pain, violence and trauma associated with colonialism and violence against Indigenous women and girls … We stand in support of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression but do not condone vandalism of any kind.”

The city also confirmed that they have been working with the Squamish Nation to identify appropriate next steps and “are working to assess, remove and store the statue until we have identified appropriate next steps.”

One thought on “Statue of man who married and impregnated a 12-year-old Indigenous girl, torn down

  1. The life expectancy in 1850 was 39 years old. It was common for early teens to marry and have children with their HUSBAND even if that someone twice the age. Cancel culture at its best, erasing history.

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