Toronto is moving to rename one of its longest and most prominent street after city staff concluded that the historical record of its namesake – Henry Dundas – in prolonging the slave trade is at odds with modern values. The days of the street’s name could be numbered as well in Mississauga, where Dundas extends westward from Toronto.
There has been a reckoning across the country over statues, street names and other commemorations of historical figures whose actions have come under question. The monument to Egerton Ryerson was toppled at his namesake university in Toronto in early June because of his views on Indigenous education. On Monday, Saskatoon council voted unanimously to rename John A. Macdonald Road, in the city’s west end, over his role in the residential school system.
Concerns about commemorating Dundas gained strength in Toronto last summer during worldwide protests about systemic racism in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis police officer.
On Monday, a report by city staff said that the name of the street had to go, saying it was “in direct conflict with the values of equity and inclusion that the City of Toronto upholds.” The issue has been under review since last September.
The legacy of Dundas, a Scottish politician who never visited Canada, has become defined by his involvement in 18th-century parliamentary debates in Britain over the slave trade.
Although the change will be a slow process that must still be approved by Toronto City Council, it appears certain to proceed after Mayor John Tory came out in support behind the renaming.
“This is recognizing a larger history that we must not ignore,” Mr. Tory said in a statement on Monday.
“By proceeding with this change, we are sending a strong message as a city about who we collectively honour and remember in public spaces and we are reaffirming our commitment to addressing anti-Black racism and reconciliation with the Indigenous communities.”
Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie said she would be raising at council on Wednesday questions about “the cost and other implications” of renaming the portion of Dundas Street in that city, as well as other roads with troubling names.
Neither Toronto nor Mississauga has made public any possible replacement names.
In Toronto, new options will be generated by an advisory committee of Black and Indigenous leaders that is to report back within 12 months.
Also to be changed are the names of other civic assets, such as Yonge-Dundas Square, in the heart of downtown Toronto, and two subway stations.
Meanwhile, Saskatoon city council has decided to start the process of renaming John A MacDonald Road.
At the June 28 meeting, councillors voted unanimously in favour of rebranding the road, which bears the name of Canada’s first prime minister.
The motion was brought forward by Ward 3 Coun. David Kirton as the street runs through his constituency in Confederation Park.
Both Kirton and Mayor Charlie Clark said they would work with residents on the street and give the information about the change as well as trying to mitigate any costs to them.
The councillor noted there has been some blowback from people who don’t want the street name to be changed.
“Please, open your heart. Open your hearts to our Indigenous neighbours. Understand that there is still so much pain that continues to be a wound and that continues to be ripped open every time they look up and they see that sign,” Kirton told Global News.
The Tribal Chief said questions about dollar amounts and inconvenience are irrelevant and that celebrating the name of someone who was instrumental in the organization of Canada’s residential school system is painful for generations of Indigenous people.
“I’m just going to be frank and say it’s a slap in the face when people start talking about that. I know there’s a responsibility, but I think we have to do the right thing here,” Tribal Chief Mark Arcand said during the meeting.
Now the city will conduct a public consultation with street residents, Confederation Park residents, as well as engagement sessions with Indigenous elders, leaders and residential school survivors.
Council has also asked staff for a report on information around protocols for the next time a street name or city monument is called to be taken down.
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