Further public consultation needed to determine next steps in response to Dundas Street petition, city staff say

A sign for Dundas Street in downtown Toronto is seen. (CTV News Toronto)

City staff are recommending that some action needs to be taken in response to a petition calling for the renaming of Dundas Street but they say that further public consultation will be needed to determine next steps.

Nearly 15,000 people have signed a petition calling for the major thoroughfare to be renamed in light of Henry Dundas’s vocal opposition to the abolishment of slavery in the British Empire in the 18th century.

Since July staff had been considering four different options on how to respond to the petition, including doing nothing, but in a report that will go to executive committee next week they say that simply ignoring it would “fail to address the impact of the name on Black communities” and fall short of the “more balanced approach” that is warranted for a city whose motto is “Diversity Our Strength.”

As such, staff are recommending that the city undertake a more exhaustive public consultation process that will include a closer examination of the three remaining options.

Those options include renaming Dundas Street as well as other city streets and city assets carrying the Dundas name, retaining the name but adding ceremonial street names and other signage that will address the legacy of Henry Dundas or retaining the name while renaming other city assets with Dundas in its name, such as Yonge-Dundas Square.

In the report, staff say that if Dundas Street were to be renamed doing so would carry an estimated $3 million cost due to the need to replace 730 street signs and rename other city assets, including three parks, a public square and a Toronto Public Library branch.

They also say that the decision could have a significant impact on the 58 businesses that carry the street’s name.

“If those Toronto businesses with the word ‘Dundas’ in the business name chose to change the name of their business, considerable costs would be incurred including new logo design (approximately $20,000 to register intellectual property), signage and marketing expenses, as well as fees to register a new business name,” the report warns.

Staff will report back in early 2021

In preparing their report, staff spoke with more than a dozen academics about the legacy of Henry Dundas and concluded that while he “was no more than a moderate anti-slavery reformer” his motion to delay the abolition of slavery while serving as a Scottish Cabinet minister “contributed to the perpetuation of the crime against humanity of enslaving human beings” and resulted in more than half a million more Black people being enslaved in the British Empire.

They are recommending that as part of the public consultation process the city should review all of its assets carrying the Dundas name and ensure that the “the voices, perspectives, and lived experiences of our Black communities be front and centre.”

They are also calling for a moratorium on the consideration of other proposals to rename streets or other civic assets until the review has been completed.