Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); }

People walk through Yonge and Dundas Square in Toronto, on June 10, 2020.

Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

Like cities all over, Toronto is facing pressure to rename places and pull down statues with unsavoury echoes. Should it comply?

It seems wrong, at a time when we are all taking a hard look at racial prejudice, past and present, to continue glorifying those who have been linked to that evil. But it seems dubious, as well, to rub out the memory of leading historical figures, even if they had attitudes that are repugnant to us now. John A. Macdonald himself has come under scrutiny for his views on Indigenous peoples. Victoria removed his statue from in front of City Hall and carted it off on a flatbed truck.

The spotlight in Toronto has been on Dundas Street, the major artery that snakes from the city centre far into the suburbs and beyond. It carries the name of Henry Dundas, a leading British politician of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Dundas, later Lord Melville, held various high positions in government, including home secretary, secretary of war and first lord of the Admiralty. The Encyclopedia Britannica says that his “adroit control of Scottish politics earned him the nickname King Harry the Ninth.” A statue of him stands atop a towering column in Edinburgh’s St. Andrew Square.

Story continues below advertisement

The indictment against Dundas is that he helped delay the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. By one estimate, the delay meant that more than 600,000 additional people were shipped as slaves from Africa to Britain’s West Indian colonies. If that is true, why would we not want to expunge his name from a street in multicultural Toronto?

“Henry Dundas blocked the abolition of slavery in the U.K. by years, a delay that cost tens of thousands of lives,” the Leader of Ontario’s NDP, Andrea Horwath, said on Twitter. “Removing his name to reflect our values isn’t about rewriting shameful history – we can’t do that. It’s about rewriting our present day.” Toronto’s mayor, John Tory, has asked the city manager to set up a working group to consider the names of streets and public places.

The trouble is that the Dundas problem is far from unique. Toronto, which began as a colonial city in the far reaches of the Empire, is positively littered with names and memorials of figures whose views modern people would deplore. The prominent Jarvis family, associated with the broad east-side street, owned slaves. So did Joseph Brant, the Mohawk leader who has a Toronto street named after him.

Egerton Ryerson, the leading educator whose statue stands on the campus of the downtown university that bears his name, wrote a report recommending special schools for Indigenous boys, an idea that helped lay the ground for the residential school system. Some of today’s Ryerson students want the statue pulled down and the name of the university changed.

A west-end street that intersects with Dundas is named after William Ewart Gladstone, the renowned 19th-century prime minister. He spoke in Parliament against the abolition of slavery, though he would later call it the “foulest crime” in British history.

There are many, many other examples. It would take a modern-day Solomon to sort out whose name gets to stay and whose must go. Each case, like each individual, is complex. It seems a simple enough decision to pull down the statues to Confederate generals that were put up deliberately in the American South long after the Civil War to make a point about white supremacy.

But what about Winston Churchill, whose statue glowers outside Toronto’s City Hall? He considered India unready for its freedom and called Mahatma Gandhi “seditious.” Even Gandhi expressed disdain for Black South Africans when he was a young lawyer there. An online petition is calling for the removal of his statute from Carleton University in Ottawa.

Story continues below advertisement

The record of Henry Dundas is more complicated than it first seems, too. As an advocate he represented Joseph Knight, a slave brought from Jamaica to Scotland who petitioned for his liberty. Some of Dundas’s descendants say he pushed for a delayed abolition of slavery simply because he was a practical politician who thought that trying to get immediate abolition through parliament would end in failure.

Instead of removing the massive Melville Monument raised in his honour, Edinburgh is putting up a plaque pointing out that Dundas was “instrumental in deferring the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade.” Ryerson put up a similar sign with its statue.

That seems the right approach. Explain, don’t erase; teach, don’t tear down; denounce, but remember. A good place for such a plaque would be Yonge-Dundas Square, right at the city’s heart.

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Follow related topics

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies