Toronto’s City Manager’s office has released a report recommending the renaming of Dundas Street and other civic assets bearing the Dundas name amid controversy surrounding the history of who they are named after.
The recommendation was done following a petition that was signed by over 14,000 people calling for the name of the street to be changed as anti-racism protests sparked in Toronto and around the world.
The creator of the petition, Andrew Lochhead, told Global News the idea came to him after the Black Lives Matter protests, in particular the knocking down of the Edward Colston statue in Scotland, which led him to the knowledge of Henry Dundas.
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.
The report also highlighted “Dundas’ role in the continued subjugation of Indigenous peoples in Canada in his capacity as British Home Secretary,” the City said in a release on Monday.
Ridding Toronto of the Dundas name will cost an estimated $5.1 million to $6.3 million. Costs include renaming Yonge-Dundas Square, two subway stations and all related signage, the report notes.
Another petition was also circulated against the renaming of the street shortly after the original in 2020. It began gaining more signatures after Monday’s announcement. As of Monday afternoon, it had around 500 signatures.
The report done by City Manager Chris Murray was based on “feedback from community leaders and business groups including leaders from Black and Indigenous communities, as well as an extensive review of academic research on Dundas’ role in abolition and more than 400 global case studies on the evolution of commemoration and naming policies,” the release continued.
Toronto Mayor John Tory supported the decision, saying it is an opportunity for the City to make a statement about “including those who have been marginalized and recognizing the significant effect past history can have on present day lives.”
He went on to say Dundas himself has no connection to the City of Toronto.
Tory said there are almost 60 names that have been brought the City’s attention to be renamed based on connections to controversial past events and figures.
There are at least 12 streets named after slave owners, the report noted.
However, the mayor said the process of determining whether to rename a street will have to be done in an “orderly manner.”
“You want to make sure where you make a change, it is a thoroughly justified thing to do,” he said at an unrelated press conference on Monday.
“Dundas Street was a case by itself in the sense that I had asked for a specific report in light of all the interest and concern that existed in the community about Dundas Street and Mr. Dundas,” Tory said, adding there will be a report next Spring that outlines the framework on how to make future decisions going forward.
That coincides with the hope that Lochhead had when he first created the petition – the idea that renaming Dundas would be the first of many actions.
“One of the original aims … one of the key demands was not only the discovery process, but that any work going forward should centre Black and Indigenous voices and I’m really thrilled that the City has made a strong commitment to that — not only in words, but in discernible and measurable action,” Lochhead said.
Murray wrote the petition led to a “broader review of how the City commemorates public figures and events,” which has now been dubbed the “Recognition Review.”
“Most commemorations in Toronto represent the stories of white settler males in positions of power,” the city manager wrote.
While Lochhead was excited over the City’s recommendation, he did voice disappointment that it had taken this long for any action to be taken.
“It’s not like anyone hasn’t asked for this before, we just refused to listen. So it’s a mixed emotion,” he said.
“I think it should make it clear why we should do something and why doing nothing is unacceptable.”
The Executive Committee will review the report on July 6 and if approved, it will then go before Toronto City Council on July 14 and 15.
Anyone who wishes to either contribute their views or wants to speak in front of City Council in regards to the renaming of Dundas Street can do so here.
“As the report notes, this is not erasing history – as some critics of such a change may charge – this is recognizing a larger history that we must not ignore,” the release said.
“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.”
Lochhead said his hope is that other municipalities and institutions take note and follow in the footsteps of Toronto’s recommendation.
—With files from The Canadian Press