Black London Ontarians on renaming Dundas Street

Henry Dundas

Now that the City of Toronto has voted to change the name of Dundas Street, some members of London, Ont.’s Black community are saying London should follow its lead.

Dundas Street is named after Henry Dundas, an 18th-century politician from Scotland. Dundas was an abolitionist, but he was instrumental in delaying the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, leading to the enslavement of more than half a million Black people by the British Empire.

Here’s what four Londoners had to say about a name change in their city:

Madison Milanczak is co-president of Western University’s Black Students’ Association:

“I think it’s a great decision to rename the street, and I do agree that London should follow suit. When we have statues, when we have streets named after these people who have contributed to colonization, to slavery, to the oppression of marginalized people.

I think people are now starting to learn the impact it has on marginalized people as well, because it’s not like it’s the best news in the world, learning that one of the major streets in London, in Toronto is named after someone who contributed heavily to slavery, to the killing of my ancestors, to my family.

So I think it’s something definitely in the right direction. And I think it just furthers a conversation that Canadians are now having that we need to dismantle, decolonize, and sort of rethink our structures in Canada.”

Malvin Wright, co-curator of the Black Visual Arts Exhibition:

“The act of naming is so profound. It is beyond just simply the physical. It touches into the realm of the metaphysical.

Everything around us has a name, everything that has been imagined and everything that exists has a name. It is not coincidental that each and every time you find a Dundas in Toronto and in in London, in Hamilton, in Winnipeg, all these other places, it is intentional. It is a replication.

And it stands for as a reminder, these are all reminders of nostalgia and colonization.

We cannot overcome or look past the act of naming. The act of naming is so profound within our society. And even within our society, within the West, within traditional societies, the act of naming is not something to be taken lightly.

So I think as a gesture to change the name of a street or a place or a space, that is a first step toward achieving an act of restorative justice.” 

Ezinee Ndukwe, Western’s Black Students’ Association:

“I think it definitely all starts in school. Even me finding out now that Henry Dundas was part of the transatlantic slave trade, I did not know about that at all.

I think this is all about Canadian history, and wanting to remove Canada’s part in the transatlantic slave trade.

I think, number one, we should be looking at the history curriculum in schools and see how that can be fixed.”

Carl Cadogan, Black History Coordinating Committee:

“I had never heard of Dundas when I was in high school. I didn’t hear about the history of Canada as it relates to Indigenous or Black people. But people put up the statues anyway without really considering all these people have done.

I think things have changed. We can’t change history. We can’t go back and make these people better people, but we can look at how we can respond to these issues in 2021.” 

Meanwhile, London City Councillor Elizabeth Peloza has been pushing the city to take a closer look at its street-naming bylaws since 2020 when Plantation Road was flagged as needing a name change.

Peloza and council voted to have city staff review a list of names and to report back this coming fall.

Both the London Black History Coordinating Committee and the African Canadian Federation of London & Area are supporting the move for a review.