Dundas Street, which runs through Toronto and several other southern Ontario cities, was named after Henry Dundas, an 18th-century politician who delayed Britain’s abolition of slavery by 15 years.
“In the wake of two weeks of protests against police murder and racial injustice, Toronto City Council can take a constructive and symbolic step toward disavowing its historic associations with persons who have actively worked toward preserving systems of racial inequality and exploitation,” the petition reads.
The petition’s organizer Andrew Lochhead told Global News Radio 640 Toronto’s Kelly Cutrara that the idea came to him Tuesday morning when he was talking with friends about the knocking down of the Edward Colston statue in Edinburgh, Scotland.
“I thought, well, if they can do it there, there seems to be broad public support of it there currently, then maybe we should try and do it here,” Lochhead said.
A renewed focus on systemic anti-Black racism following the death of George Floyd has put the issue of monuments to historical figures back in the spotlight.
As of 1 p.m. Wednesday, the petition sits at just over 3,000 signatures. The petition is asking for at least 4,000. It is also calling for the process to be done in partnership with Black-led organizations and historic societies “in order to create a long list of potential candidates.
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When asked why this should be a priority when most residents may not know who Dundas was, Lochhead said it is for that reason why it is important.
“If a street has ceased to mean something. If we can no longer recognize why it’s called that — that’s all the more chase for me to say that we should rename that because we want street names that are meaningful to us here in our city,” he said.
“If you don’t know, that tells me right away that it’s time to change.”
Locchead said the street is a symbol of “racism and slavery” in the city.
“I think we’re trying to do something to address systems of racism that are perpetuated at present.”
In Edinburgh, there are calls to tear down a statue of Dundas – and the leader of city council there said he would have “absolutely no sense of loss” if the Dundas statue was removed and replaced with something else.
—With files from The Canadian Press