One of Toronto’s most prominent streets is getting stripped of its name: Dundas Street will be no more.
The name Dundas will be removed from all public assets in Toronto, city council decided Wednesday, including the landmark Yonge-Dundas Square and Dundas Station.
The street has been named for Henry Dundas — a Scottish minister reported to have helped delay the end of the slave trade in 1700s Canada — since long before any Torontonian was born.
Council, in a 17-7 vote, decided his legacy is not worthy of the honour in 2021.
“It defies logic as to why you would continue to celebrate someone who doesn’t deserve to be celebrated,” city manager Chris Murray said during the debate. His staff brought forward a report recommending the name change following a petition signed by nearly 14,000 people.
The petition signed by mostly Toronto residents — which Mayor John Tory asked staff to review — demanded the name change and is credited with spurring one of the most logistically complicated name changes the city has undergone since amalgamation.
The city will change the signage and legal name for all 25 kilometres of Dundas Street that run through the city. The decision does not impact other municipalities like Mississauga, which is also home to the east-west corridor.
A new name has yet to be decided on.
An advisory committee will consult the public on candidates with the goal of council voting on a replacement by April 2022.
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Staff are also reviewing some 60 other street names that have been raised as problematic. A process to decide on the fate of those streets, like Indian Road, has yet to be established.
Several councillors, including two of Tory’s deputy mayors Denzil Minnan-Wong and Stephen Holyday, pushed back against the renaming during a debate Wednesday afternoon, claiming there wasn’t proper consultation and that Dundas was actually an abolitionist.
Staff outlined their consultation with Black and Indigenous community leaders — groups most impacted by the oppressive legacy of British colonialism — and the peer-reviewed research they conducted that concluded Dundas slowed the end to the British slave trade. He added the word “gradually” to an abolitionist bill tabled in parliament and later worked against attempts to get the racist and deadly trade ended sooner, staff reported.
Veteran Coun. James Pasternak (Ward 6 York Centre) said the item was one of the most difficult during his time on council.
“Should I be on a jury on Henry Dundas’s trial for crimes against humanity or hate crimes, whatever the case may be, I would probably be the runaway juror,” said Pasternak. “I don’t know whether I could convict him … We’re trying to piece together events of over 200 years ago.”
Coun. Jennifer McKelvie (Ward 25 Scarborough-Rouge Park) said you only need to look to the next generation as a moral compass, saying her daughter told her it was the right thing to change the name despite the cost.
Tory himself spoke repeatedly in favour of the staff recommendation, saying he didn’t even know Henry Dundas existed before the petition or of his painful legacy. He noted that Dundas clearly had no connection to Toronto or Canada.
“If we were sitting here today looking at figures in the history of this city and of this country, would there be any change whatsoever that you would even consider for a minute naming one of our most major streets after this man? I think the answer to that is a resounding no.”
Jennifer Pagliaro is a Toronto-based reporter covering city hall and municipal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @jpags
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