An online petition that’s earned more than 3,000 signatures in its first 48 hours is calling on the City to rename Dundas Street due to its namesake’s “highly problematic” history and opposition against the abolition of slavery in the British Empire in the 18th century.
The petition, which launched on Monday, comes in the wake of weeks of protests against police brutality and racial injustice, both here and in the US.
The petition highlights the racist history of the man the street is named after, Henry Dundas – 1st Viscount Melville, Scottish advocate, and Tory politician who was very pro-slavery – and calls on Toronto city council to 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.”
As such, the petition is asking council to begin a public process to rename Dundas Street and replace the street name with something that honours “a more appropriate person, place or event.”
The petition says that Dundas served 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. While slavery was eventually abolished in 1833 and officially in British North America in 1834, Dundas’ actions to preserve the profiteering of his friends in the slave trade cost tens of thousands of lives, if not more.
What’s more, Dundas was also the last British MP to be impeached – for embezzlement and misappropriation of funds – though he was never convicted.
“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,” reads the petition. “Street names change frequently and it’s important that this one does.”
This comes as a number of cities around the world have already removed statues of figures with connections to the slave trade, including a city in Alabama that took down a monument honouring a Confederate naval officer. A monument to Dundas in Edinburgh, Scotland has recently also become the target of demonstrations and calls for the city to consider removing it.
On Wednesday morning, the petition jumped from 1,000 signatures to approximately 3,300.