Canadian News Jun 10, 2020 7:44 PM EST

Petition to change name of Dundas Street in Toronto over racist history gains traction

An online petition made to change to name of Dundas Street as a result of Henry Dundas' opposition to the British abolition of slavery in the 18th century.

Petition to change name of Dundas Street in Toronto over racist history gains traction
Quinn Patrick Montreal, QC
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An online petition made to change to name of Dundas Street as a result of Henry Dundas' opposition to the British abolition of slavery in the 18th century, according to CP24.

The petition was created on Tuesday by Andrew Lochhead, a Toronto resident and has already garnered more than 3,800 signatures.

“I really started this with the intention of starting a conversation and hopefully spurring some action towards understanding a little bit of our heritage that is so ubiquitous around us,” said Lochhead. “A lot of people have said to me that we didn’t understand or know the history of Dundas Street and so it doesn’t mean anything, it is just a street name. But to that I say if it doesn’t mean anything than why not change it to something that can be meaningful to us today.”

A series of protests have been going on across Canada and across the United States in the wake of George Floyd's murder by a Minneapolis police officer.

Dundas Street is named after Henry Dundas, a Scottish politician, who's legacy some are calling "highly problematic" as he participated in obstructing the abolition of slavery up until the end of his career in 1806.

City council has said that they will take “a constructive and symbolic step towards disavowing its historic associations with persons who have actively worked toward preserving systems of racial inequality and exploitation” in light of the protests.

In recent weeks, many statues have been removed both by a city council vote or by angry protestors and certain streets renamed due to those public figures historical connection to the slave trade. One confederate monument that honoured a Confederate navel officer was taken without notice. In Edinburgh, a statue of Henry Dundas has been the subject of much debate and was defiled with graffiti over the weekend.

Mary Ann Shadd was Canada's first black newspaper publisher and Lucie Blackburn, who created Toronto's first taxi company (after escaping slavery in the U.S.) have both been suggested as possible namesake's for the renaming of Dundas Street, according to Lochhead.

“One of the key parts of this petition is that I really think renaming Dundas needs to be a consultative process that involves not only Black-led organizations and historical societies but indigenous groups and others,” said Lochhead. “All manner of public consultation I think is important in this.”

Mayor John Tory said that he was unaware of how Dundas Street was named until reading about it in the petition and he assumes most Torontonians wouldn't know either.

“In light of all the concerns that exist about racism and a number of other things that fit into that sort of historical basket, what we should do is find a way to go about looking at all these different names and statures in a thoughtful way, perhaps based on some expert advice from a historian for example as opposed to Facebook petitions,” said Tory. “Facebook petitions are terrific but they are not the way you make public policy decisions or decisions like this.”

Upper Canada Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe, was close friends with Dundas and responsible for naming both the street and the town of Dundas after him.

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