Toronto may rename Dundas Street West — is Hamilton's Dundas next?

Toronto may rename Dundas Street West because of its ties to a racist from centuries past, but what about the community about an hour away with the same name?

Dundas Street West and Dundas, Ont., both named after Henry Dundas, who delayed British abolition of slavery

Graffiti that reads "Son of slaver and Colonialist Profiteer" appeared on the statue of Robert Dundas 2nd Viscount Melville — son of Henry Dundas 1st Viscount Melville, in Melville Street, Edinburgh, Scotland — on Tuesday, June 9. (Jane Barlow/PA via AP)

Toronto may rename Dundas Street West because of its ties to a racist from centuries past, but what about Hamilton's suburb with the same name?

A petition with thousands of signatures about the street has spurred serious discussions in Toronto. While there are no public calls to have the town of Dundas renamed, the downtown Toronto street and community in Hamilton have the same namesake.

Both were named in honour of Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville — an 18th-century politician from Scotland who used his power to delay the freedom of slaves in Britain. He entered politics in the late 1700s, gaining status and influence as home secretary and secretary at war.

He later became known as "The Great Tyrant" for tweaking an anti-slavery bill that would delay the abolition of the slave trade by roughly 15 years. His actions froze the freedom of roughly 630,000 slaves. He still has a monument in Edinburgh, Scotland's capital and it has been the target of vandalism and a source of controversy.

Dundas no longer formally exists as a town, since Hamilton, its surrounding suburbs and the region of Hamilton Wentworth were amalgamated in 2000, so it's not clear what a campaign to remove the name would mean.

But signs are still up identifying it as Dundas, the name is still in common everday use, it exists as a postal address and is still part of the riding name for the area - Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas.

Ontario's NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, who grew up in Hamilton, supported the idea of renaming the Toronto street on Twitter.

"Henry Dundas blocked the abolition of slavery in the UK by years, a delay that cost tens of thousands of lives. Removing his name to reflect our values isn't about rewriting shameful history — we can't do that," she wrote.

"It's about rewriting our present day. Rename Dundas Street."

It's unclear if she supports renaming Dundas, as her office did not respond for comment.

Ward 13 Councillor, Arlene VanderBeek, who represents the Dundas area, did not return calls for comment.

Ameil Joseph, a McMaster University associate professor who studies critical race theory, told CBC News it's important to think about the "how" and "why" of naming and renaming.

"If we're thinking of Dundas, you would have to think about what it was before — Cootes Paradise. Thomas Coote was a British officer, also involved in a colonial project. Are we going to rename Bathurst, Jarvis — Jarvis who is a slave trader? Yonge? It's all around us," he said.

"When we think about removing statues and street signs, we have to think about how we do it differently, how we can tell the story in a way that's more comprehensive rather than more erasure."

Joseph said it is important to remove monuments that only tell one side of the various ethnic atrocities in Canada's history, but the emphasis needs to be on replacing them with full context of past events, instead of only portraying the view of powerful.

"We're in a historical moment where we can unpractice that, but it's all about how. If we're talking about our histories of Hamilton and Dundas, what's beneath that? Beneath that is what's always been here, these are traditional nations of the Mississauga and Haudenosaunee nations," Joseph explained.

"A renaming would have to be something that speaks to Black communities who have been here since before Hamilton was Hamilton ... these things are deeply implicated all around us. I don't think pulling things down is just the answer."


Bobby Hristova is a journalist with CBC Hamilton. He reports on all issues, but has a knack for stories that hold people accountable, stories that focus on social issues and investigative journalism. He previously worked for the National Post and CityNews in Toronto. You can contact him at bobby.hristova@cbc.ca.