A petition went up today on the site You.leadnow.ca to change the name of Dundas Street in Toronto. The claim is that the person after whom the street is named, Edinburgh Scotland’s Henry Dundas, First Viscount Melville, has a history of working against the movement for racial equality in addition to being impeached as a British MP.
“In the wake of two weeks of protests against police murder and racial injustice, Toronto City Council can take a constructive and symbolic step toward disavowing its historic associations with persons who have actively worked toward preserving systems of racial inequality and exploitation,” the petition reads. “As such, we ask that Toronto City Council begin a public process to rename Dundas Street in the city of Toronto to honour a more appropriate person, place, or event.”
Henry Dundas obstructed and delayed the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. His legacy is being debated in Scotland. https://t.co/35ZnBFhqOJ
— Daniel Rotsztain (@theurbangeog) June 8, 2020
Apparently, Dundas was friends with John Graves Simcoe, the first Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada and founder of Toronto, who named a small town in Ontario after him as well as the Toronto street. Dundas, according to the petition and information found online, was actively opposing the abolition of slavery.
“As the MP for Midlothian in Westminster and as Secretary of State he actively participated in obstructing the abolition of slavery in the British Empire from 1791 to the end of his political career in 1806,” the petition states. “Slavery was eventually abolished in 1833 and officially in British North America in 1834. But Dundas’ actions to preserve the profiteering of his friends in the slave trade, cost tens of thousands of lives, if not more.”
Also worth mentioning, he was the last British MP to be impeached — for embezzlement and misappropriation of funds — though not convicted.
Dundas is a major arterial road in Toronto, which was originally constructed in 1796 and runs from the Beaches neighbourhood right through the middle of the city and on to Mississauga and further points west.
There is also an active movement in Scotland to tear down a Dundas statue in his hometown of Edinburgh, which has been embraced by the public including such notables as Scottish author Irvine Welsh.
This statute is an embarrassment for an international city. Come on the Scottish Government, the council etc, get rid of this hideous tribute to kidnap, rape and murder.
— Irvine Welsh (@IrvineWelsh) June 9, 2020
The petition for Dundas Street in Toronto concludes, “If we truly wish for our public street names and monuments to reflect our values and priorities we must consider engaging the public in the process of excising those names which are no longer worthy of our honour or respect. Names such as that of Henry Dundas. Street names change frequently and it’s important that this one does.”