The anti-Black racism movement sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis that has resulted in worldwide protests and the felling of statues of controversial figures from confederacy president Jefferson Davis to Christopher Columbus, now has the City of Vaughan grappling with the legacy of its own namesake.
The City of Vaughan is named after Benjamin Vaughan. He represented British interests as co-negotiator of the Treaty of Paris, which ended the American Revolutionary War, and was instrumental in keeping Upper Canada, later Ontario, under British rule. He was also a British plantation and slave owner in Jamaica and once defended slavery as a member of the British Parliament.
There is now an online petition to rename not only the August civic holiday, which was renamed Benjamin Vaughan day in 2013, but the city itself.
“We’d like to see open dialogue and engagement with Vaughan citizens — particularly Black and Indigenous citizens whose lives are directly impacted by this issue — to determine who the new historical figure could be,” the website reads, in part. “We would also like the municipal government to consider renaming Vaughan to honor the people who made a positive, meaningful impact on our community.”
On June 15, Vaughan Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua issued a statement stating he had submitted a Member’s Resolution for a Committee of the Whole meeting that would call for Benjamin Vaughan Day to be renamed in honour of John Graves Simcoe. Council unanimously supported the resolution. Bevilacqua noted that Simcoe was the first Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada and a leading proponent of the Act Against Slavery.
“I know that the ongoing solidarity against racial injustice continues to be a fundamental priority for all members of council. We continue working closely with residents, community organizations, and other government levels to address the issue of anti-Black racism,” said Bevilacqua.
“The City places a great deal of importance on diversity, inclusion and the condemnation of racism in all its forms,” he continued. “We continue to forge connections and pursue opportunities that demonstrate our commitment to foster a community that is inclusive and genuinely appreciative of the diversity that enriches us. While we have achieved much, we recognize there is still more to do.”
The petition also calls on the Vaughan mayor, members of parliament and city councillors to change the name of the city.
“In his time as a Member of Parliament, Benjamin Vaughan tried to persuade other MPs to continue the practice of slavery which is based on the ideology of domination and superiority over another race- at a time when others were actively abolishing it,” the petition reads. “It is shameful that we uphold these people as heroes in our communities by naming cities after them and declaring civic holidays in honour of them.”
The petition currently has 894 signatures.
The same issue is cropping up in other parts of the GTA as well. A petition has been garnering much interest in Toronto that asks for Dundas Street to be renamed for similar reasons. In addition, Ryerson students and others are calling for the removal of a statue of Egerton Ryerson from the school grounds.