Mayor Tory: Rename Dundas Street to acknowledge the more honest view we take of history today

By Lincoln DePradine

John Tory

Toronto, in an attempt at establishing “a more inclusive city’’, is changing the name of Dundas Street, according to Mayor John Tory.

Henry Dundas, after whom the street and other Toronto landmarks are named, was a Scottish politician who opposed Britain’s ending its participation in the Transatlantic slave trade.

Scrapping the Dundas Street name is “important’’, Tory said Saturday in an address to a celebration of Emancipation Day 2021.

The mayor was one of several speakers and entertainers that participated in the annual Emancipation Day Underground Freedom Train ride founded and conducted by A Different Booklist Cultural Centre. The theme of the virtual event – organized in collaboration with the Toronto Transit Commission – was, “The Fire Within’’.

Injustice and intergenerational trauma are part of the enduring legacy of slavery and they “shape the present reality for many Torontonians to this day’’, Tory said. “And that is why, it’s important that we change the name of Dundas Street to acknowledge the more honest view we take of history today, and to make a statement about who we are and who we want to be in the 21st century in Toronto’’.

Toronto City Council voted 17 to 7 last month in favour of a motion, put forward by Tory and city staff, to change Dundas Street name.

The city also plans on removing the Dundas name from other public infrastructure such as the TTC’s Dundas and Dundas West subway stations and Yonge-Dundas Square.

“You can never go wrong doing the right thing,’’ Tory said during council debate on the name-change. “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.’’

A report, on recommendations for new names for Dundas Street, will be presented to Toronto City Council’s executive committee in the spring of 2022.

Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard

On August 1, 1834, parliamentarians in Britain passed the Emancipation Act, putting an end to the legal enslavement of Africans in Canada and its territories in the English-speaking Caribbean.

The Canadian parliament, on March 24, adopted a bill recognizing Emancipation Day across Canada.

“That Canada admits to its own shameful history of enslavement of African people,’’ said organizers of the Underground Freedom Train ride, “is a mark of progress. But, clearly, not everyone is free in this country – neither Indigenous Peoples, whose basic rights to self-determination and to access to clean water and their ancestral lands continue to be denied; nor are many others who similarly are victims of oppression, whether on the basis of class, sex, race or other protected category of identity.’’

Emancipation Day can be used to “firm up our resolve to act; act to takedown longstanding barriers and find antidotes to the continuing struggles faced by people of African descent, so as to foster a more inclusive city’’, said Tory.

“This is a time to challenge norms and to commit to not just to doing better, but doing our best to do what’s right; to learn from our history. And, we must recognize that gains have been made but this is an ongoing journey towards realizing a greater sense of justice.’’

Saturday’s other speakers on the Freedom Train ride included Dr Wanda Thomas Bernard, a member of the Canadian senate; and educator and author, Yvonne Shulter-Browne.

Emancipation Day is an occasion to “reclaim our place in Canadian history and our contributions to helping to build this country’’; and it’s also “a time for us to rekindle the fire in our bellies – the fire of resistance’’, said Thomas Bernard.

“Let us pause,’’ she added, “and also “reflect on the things that are happening in the here and now, and to reflect on what we can do to bring about change wherever we are.’’

For Shulter-Browne, Emancipation signifies many things, including “good housing, clean water and proper education for First Nations’ people who have been confined to the reserves’’.

 In addition, said Shulter-Browne, “Emancipation means liberation from all forms of discrimination including – but not limited to – discrimination based on race, skin colour, sexual identity and disabilities. Emancipation means freedom from homeless. Emancipation means the prevention of wars of displacement of peoples from their homelands. Emancipation means freedom from food insecurity; and, finally, emancipation means full acceptance into the human family for all people in planet earth.’’