The push to remove local landmarks with ties to colonial figures are mounting as anti-racism protests spread throughout Canada and the U.S.
Petitions are circulating to rename Dundas Street to remove ties to a 17th century British MP and remove a statue of Ryerson University’s founder due to the racist histories of both figures.
The petitions come in the wake of a widespread push for racial justice and equality following anti-racism protests in Toronto and across the U.S. following the police killing of unarmed Black man George Floyd in Minneapolis.
In the petition to rename Dundas Street, organizers write that the street’s namesake, Henry Dundas, who hailed from Scotland, campaigned to preserve slavery.
“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,” reads the Leadnow petition, which is approaching 2,000 signatures.
“Toronto City Council can 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.”
Mayor John Tory told CP24 that a “thoughtful” process was needed to consider changes like the one recommended in the petition.
“In light of all the concerns that exist about racism… what we should do is find a way to go about looking at all these different names and statures in a thoughtful way, perhaps based on some expert advice from a historian for example as opposed to Facebook petitions,” he said.
In Dundas’ native Scotland, similar efforts are being made to reckon with the MP’s history, with demonstrations taking place at a statue of Dundas in Edinburgh.
Meanwhile, renewed calls have arisen for Ryerson University to remove a statue of Egerton Ryerson that stands on Gould Street in the centre of the school’s campus. Ryerson, a politician and educator, was one of the key architects of the residential school system.
A Change.org petition, which stands at over 3,300 signatures, says the statue is a “symbol of racism, sexism and cultural genocide”. The petition quotes a passage written by Ryerson: “…It is a fact established by numerous experiments, that the North American Indian cannot be civilized or preserved in a state of civilization (including habits of industry and sobriety) except in connection with, if not by the influence of, not only religious instruction and sentiment, but of religious feelings.”
In 2018, the university added a plaque to the statue contextualizing Ryerson’s role in creating residential schools.
A number of statues and monuments honouring historical figures with ties to slavery have been removed, forcibly toppled, or targeted for removal by activists in recent weeks. On June 7, Black Lives Matter protestors in Bristol, England toppled a public statue of Edwards Colston, a 17th-century slave trader, and pushed it into the harbour.