Renaming streets and vandalism of monuments is no solution to resolve historical wrongs

Renaming streets and vandalism-canada-mileniostadium
Many statues of John A. Macdonald have suffered vandalism around the country. Credit: Robert Willian/ Waterloo

On Wednesday July 14, France celebrates Bastille Day – the day the people stormed the Bastille on 14 July 1789, which ushered in the French Revolution. The aftermath of the revolution brought about the end of the monarchy, but also chaos and the loss of countless lives before stability was finally restored.

On the same day as the French mark their tumultuous revolution, a new kind of revolution is taking place in Toronto and across the country.  The City of Toronto has approved the renaming of Dundas Street. Names such as Henry Dundas and even Sir John A. Macdonald are being erased from our history and petitions are circulating to remove their names from the record as well as their statues.   

Henry Dundas was a Scotsman born on April 28, 1742 and he died on May 28, 1811.  He was the First Viscount of Melville and was a British Lord and a close friend of British prime minister William Pitt. He played a major role in the government of Prime Minister Pitt and was influential in the expansion of British interests in India. He had a brilliant legal career and became Solicitor General for Scotland in 1766; but after his appointment as Lord Advocate in 1775, he gradually relinquished his legal practice to devote his attention more exclusively to public affairs. He has several statues in his honour including in Edinburgh, Scotland. He was popular in most of the British Empire, hence why his name is also found here in Canada with a street named in his honour and the town of Dundas, Ontario also so named.

It hardly needs to be stated that most Canadians and most of the people of Toronto have no idea who he is, nor do they associate his name to any political or historical reference.

However, he has become the focus of controversy over his role in delaying the abolition of the terrible trans-Atlantic slave trade.   Given his legacy and the current civic debate around past historical wrongs, the City of Toronto was presented with a petition of about 14,000 citizens asking for the city to rename the street. 

The city report notes that “most commemorations in Toronto represent the stories of white settler males in positions of power. This historic imbalance has meant that other stories – including those of Indigenous Peoples, Black communities, racialized communities, women, 2SLGBTQ+ persons, and other equity-deserving groups are underrepresented in the public realm”.

This maybe the case but the right way to address this is by adding their names to new streets and parks etc. Unfortunately, the City of Toronto is now embarking on a path of no return. After approving the renaming of Dundas Street, what next will have to change?

Just renaming Dundas Street will cost millions of dollars as it will involve some 730 street signs, two subway stations, three parks, a public library, 625 Bike Share stations, 60 businesses and more, not to mention Yonge-Dundas Square. Millions of dollars spent on a project that would better see this money spent on education and increased diversity awareness.

This is not the end, as another report is coming for additional name changes.  It is estimated that a further sixty other streets and park names warrant reconsideration.  Names such as James Baby of Baby Point and George Yonge. The city has not provided an estimate for how much this cost but it will be in the millions of dollars.

Again, money better allocated to new initiatives to create a better society than to rewriting the past at great expense.

By Jorge de Paiva

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