Toronto city council has voted in favour of renaming Dundas Street in a bid to promote inclusion of marginalized communities.
After a lengthy debate on Wednesday, council voted 17-7 in favour of a motion put forward by city staff to change the name of the street, a major artery running east-west through the city.
The move follows a 2020 petition to scrap the name due to Henry Dundas’s association with the transatlantic slave trade. It cropped up amid global discussions and protests against racial injustice, inequality and anti-Black racism.
‘Our reputation is on the line’
Coun. Michael Thompson, the only Black person on council, said before the vote that renaming the street is the right thing to do.
“History will remember not so much what it cost us to change the name — it will remember whether or not we actually take the right action. Our reputation is on the line,” he said.
The city manager is expected to report back with recommendations for new names to council’s executive committee in the spring of 2022.
Dundas, an influential Scottish politician, was opposed to ending the British Empire’s participation in the transatlantic slave trade when the proposal was brought forth near the end of the 18th century.
His opposition served to stall its abolition, which kept hundreds of thousands of people, many of them Black, in bondage and allowed many more to be enslaved.
The city will also remove the Dundas name from other public infrastructure, including the TTC’s Dundas and Dundas West subway stations and Yonge-Dundas Square, a central location in downtown Toronto. Other civic assets bearing the Dundas name include three parks, one Toronto Public Library branch and more than 730 street signs.
The city will hold a public consultation to find a new name for the street and plans to find room in its budget to support people and businesses affected by the change.
‘You can never go wrong doing the right thing’
Mayor John Tory said Dundas never visited Toronto and the city should not celebrate him and his legacy.
“You can never go wrong doing the right thing,” Tory said.
“All we are saying is, we are not going to continue to recognize and to honour someone who took the actions that he took at the time he did it that are so inconsistent with the values that we are trying to build up and celebrate today. That’s what we’re saying.”
According to the city, a community advisory committee will lead the renaming process. That committee will be made up of Black and Indigenous leaders, representatives from diverse communities who live and work along Dundas Street and from Business Improvement Areas and resident associations.
The committee will develop potential new names and a “transition plan” to help residents and businesses throughout the process.
“The adoption of this report furthers the City of Toronto’s commitment to confronting anti-Black racism, advancing truth, reconciliation and justice, as well as building a more inclusive and equitable Toronto,” the city said in a news release.
“The city is committed to taking steps to right wrongs, challenge systematic institutionalized racism and build a more inclusive Toronto for all, in keeping with the city’s motto, ‘Diversity Our Strength.'”
Calls for more consultation
Councillors Stephen Holyday, James Pasternak and Denzil Minnan-Wong expressed concern about what they perceived as a lack of public consultation on the renaming.
Cheryl Blackman, the city’s acting general manager of economic development, said city staff consulted about 25 representatives of Black and Indigenous communities in Toronto in a series of “discovery sessions.” Representatives of Business Improvement Areas and residents who live on Dundas Street were also consulted, she said.
“We are planning in our next steps to do a deep and thorough consultation with Torontonians on the ways that we move forward towards determining a new name,” Blackman said.
Holyday suggested that the process by city staff did not follow the city’s Street Renaming Policy, which states: “The request is to rename a street requires documented support from 75 per cent of property owners that abut the Street.”
Could cost $6.3M
According to a June 18 report by the city manager to council’s executive committee, Dundas Street is home to more than 97,000 residents and 4,500 businesses. The total cost of the renaming effort is expected to be in the range of $5.1 million to $6.3 million over two years.
“This cost estimate reflects the significant number of changes and complexity of work involved in changing the name of Dundas Street as a major arterial road, with its direct linkages to provincial highways, and impacts to the transit system and other civic assets,” the report said.
City staff reviewed academic research prepared by historians on Henry Dundas to understand his legacy. Staff members also consulted more than 20 academic experts on public history, Black Canadian studies and public commemoration before drawing up their recommendations.
The city staff working group that developed the recommendations included representatives from the city’s Confronting Anti-Black Racism Unit and Indigenous Affairs Office.
According to the city, council’s decision requires the passing of a bylaw for the renaming to begin.
Council also approved the development of a “commemorative framework” that will include principles on how the city marks public figures and events in monuments, street and place names and a process for reviewing existing city assets. This fall, the city will consult the public for their say on the framework.