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The name "Dundas" is not just a street name in Toronto, but is used in municipalities across Ontario.
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Don’t re-name Dundas Street, three former Mayors write

“There are more appropriate ways to spend $8.6 million”

Former Toronto Mayors David Crombie, John Sewell, Art Eggleton have written a joint letter to the current Mayor and Council to request Toronto re-consider changing the name of Dundas Street.

On July 6, 2021 Toronto’s Executive Committee voted to explore the idea of eliminating the Dundas Street name from Toronto maps, because activists complained historical namesake Henry Dundas was pro-slavery.

Given the tremendous number of major roads, towns, parks and other landmark sites named “Dundas,” attempting to eliminate the name from Canadian or even just Ontario municipalities could result in tremendous cost and confusion.

However, Crombie, Sewell and Eggleton maintain that citizens in 2023 are mis-understanding the historical context in which Dundas lived and worked: “Henry Dundas was, according to a considerable amount of historic evidence, a committed abolitionist of slavery,” they write in an open letter released on August 16th.

“Dear Mayor and City Councillors,

We, former Mayors of Toronto, request you to re-consider the decision to re­ name Dundas Street. We question the interpretation of the research leading to that decision and the practicality of carrying it out.

Henry Dundas (1742-1811) was, according to a considerable amount of historic evidence, a committed abolitionist of slavery.

His first achievement as an abolitionist was in 1778, when, as a lawyer, he took a appeal case in Scotland, of an enslaved person Joseph Knight, brought to Scotland from Jamaica by his owner. In court Dundas stated that he 11hoped for the honour of Scotland, that the supreme Court of this country would not be the only court that would give its sanction to so barbarous a claim. Human nature, my Lords, spurns at the thought of slavery among any part of our species.” The judges not only agreed but ended slavery completely in Scotland.

Dundas has been faulted for his next act on the subject, in 1792. Then a British MP, he moved an amendment to a motion of William Wilberforce on the abolition of the slave trade to make it gradual. Wilberforce’s motion of the previous year, 1791, had failed miserably, 163 to 88. With Dundas’s amendment, it at least passed in the House of Commons, the first anti-slavery motion to do so in Great Britain. Unfortunately, the plan was subsequently defeated in the House of Lords.

It would take a lot more than a British law to get rid of the slave trade and slavery, which Dundas understood. Yet even Wilberforce eventually came to see the necessity of intermediate steps: in 1823 he became vice-president of the Society for the Mitigation and Gradual Abolition of Slavery.

Dundas’s appointment, of John Graves Simcoe, also an abolitionist, as the first lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada (Ontario) also promoted the anti-slavery cause. On arrival, Simcoe sought to get an abolition bill adopted, but there were slave owners in the House of Assembly and much opposition. The abolitionist attorney-general, John White, who presented it, then revised it drastically and it passed in 1793, making Ontario the first jurisdiction in the British Empire to adopt an anti-slavery law. John White, not so incidentally, was defeated in the next election.

Dundas was also enlightened about French-English relations in Canada, notably requiring laws to be enacted in both languages, instead of English only. He also was responsible for Britain taking steps to reverse two decades of oppression of Black Loyalists in the Atlantic provinces.

In summary, it appears that Henry Dundas for whom the street is named, was a committed abolitionist who, when facing strong opposition and certain defeat, rather than give up his quest, advocated for interim measures that would ultimately lead to that result. It seems he was doing the best he could under challenging circumstances at that time in history. Therefore, we don’t see a valid reason to remove his name from the street.

From a practical perspective, and given the City’s financial circumstance, there are more appropriate ways to spend $8.6 Million.”

On behalf of David Crombie, John Sewell, Art Eggleton”