Renaming Dundas Street

In recent years, across North America citizens have been protesting, petitioning, and defacing monuments and other infrastructure dedicated to historical men who made their mark through slavery, anti-Semitism, and other unjust contributions. Now in the City of Toronto, the decision has been made to scrap all associations with Henry Dundas in an effort to “challenge systematic institutionalized racism and build a more inclusive Toronto for all.” This article will discuss this change.

Growing up in Toronto, I had absolutely no idea what Dundas street or anything else with the name was named after. Recently, with the petition and potential renaming of all things Dundas in the city, I learned the history behind it. Henry Dundas was a Scottish politician in the late 1800s and was made the first Secretary of State for War in 1794. Dundas become known as “the great tyrant” for many reasons, but particularly for his role in delaying the abolition of slavery in the British Empire by an additional 15 years. The slave trade ended in the Empire in 1807, but if it weren’t for Dundas it would have ended in 1792. Dundas caused 630,000 people to wait more than a decade for their first tastes of freedom by delaying abolition.

After learning about the history of the name, it became clear to me why so many Torontonians want the names of some of the city’s great spots to be honouring a man who frankly did not deserve it. On July 14, 2021, Toronto’s City Council voted to rename Dundas Street along with other civic assets with the Dundas name “in an effort to promote inclusion and reconciliation with marginalized communities.” At present, there are no options available for replacement, but the City Council ensures that they will develop potential new names in addition to a transition plan to aid residents and businesses through this transition.

This transition is sure to be tricky with 730 street signs, 3 parks and 13 park signs, a public library, 62 bike share stations and Green P lots, a police division and fire station, multiple transit shelters, highway signage, 8 Toronto Community Housing Corporation residences, 60 business names, 2 subway stations, and Dundas Square. The expected cost of all these changes is somewhere between $5.1 and $6.3M.

Not only that, but the City Council also approved the development of a framework that will inform a more “inclusive, community-centred approach to naming and place-making.” This framework will guide how the City chooses to commemorate public figures and events in monuments, streets, and place names, establishing a process for asset reviewal in the future. This process will begin in the fall of 2021, with stakeholder consultation and general public feedback on the development of the commemorative framework. Mayor John Tory commented on the change saying, “This recommendation is the right decision in our continuous path to building a Toronto that is inclusive, equitable and reflects the values of its diverse members. We acknowledge that this is just the first of many steps to come, but this is a genuine step in the right direction of who we are and what we can be. The names of our public streets, parks, and monuments are a reflection of our values as Torontonians. I look forward to the work to come and continuing to build a Toronto for all.”

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