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My take: Goodbye to Dundas Street

My take: Goodbye to Dundas Street

Was Henry Dundas guilty as charged for the perpetuation of slavery back in 1792?  It is easy to believe that he was indeed guilty if you are caught up in the current popular culture of ‘diversity, equity and inclusion’ and the rhetoric of the activists calling for action seems like a noble effort to make amends for past injustices.  Back in July of this year Toronto city council voted to rename Dundas Street and Dundas Square in their city and Mayor John Tory immediately announced, “We are not going to continue to recognize and to honour someone who took the actions that he took at the time he did that are so inconsistent with the values that we are trying to build up and celebrate today.”  Suddenly there were many news articles quoting people on the street claiming their offense at seeing the name ‘Dundas’ showing disgust and hatred for the man behind the name.  Some of the nastier comments made me see the similarity to the irrational incidents that we see in the news about misguided people believing crazy conspiracy theories, especially south of our border.

Henry Dundas

How did this name change phenomena get to this point after over a century of everyone getting along quite well and being content with a local community named Dundas in our midst and seeing the name Dundas on our street signs?  It seems that three occurrences in the past few years have changed our world.  They are the killing of George Floyd, the discovery of unmarked graves at Indigenous residential schools and the truth and reconciliation report.  An environment of activism has surfaced which although is very well intended and perhaps justified can easily become overzealous, which in my opinion is what has happened in this case with the ‘Dundas renaming’ bandwagon occurring.  The proponents of the name change seem to have picked up on one interpretation in the history books of Henry Dundas’s involvement in the era of abolishing slavery in the British Empire without considering all of the facts that give a much more favorable impression of the man.  In fact, he may well have had a very positive contribution to ending this dark practice in our history.  I think that those involved in bringing this issue to where we stand now believed only what they wanted to believe about Henry Dundas and now are willfully blind to anything that could challenge their decisions, even if it is the truth.

It appears that other municipalities and organizations are following Toronto’s lead and investigating changing anything that carries the ‘Dundas’ name.   A precedent is being set that could create a nightmare for municipalities in the future and where does this ever end.  There is an unlimited number of names on public assets and institutions that could be deemed offensive by those looking to create an issue. 


Unfortunately, this bandwagon may have gained too much momentum to stop and may well end up as yet another dumb decision by the powers in charge bringing unintended consequences at the end of the day.  It will be surprising if changing the name of Dundas Street accomplishes little if anything beyond giving appeasement to a minority base, while the burden of costs are once again added onto the backs of the taxpayers.  Maybe a bit of skepticism would be a good thing when the decision makers tell us what will be best for us all.

Roy Merkley is a Burlington-based writer and commentator

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