Could changing the namesake, not the name, solve Toronto’s Dundas Street dilemma?

TORONTO — What should Toronto do with Dundas Street? It’s a $6 million dollar decision the city is facing.

“The Dundas that the street was named after is not a person who is deserving in 2021, or perhaps any time, of this kind of recognition,” Mayor John Tory told CTV News Toronto.

The street was named after Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville, a Scottish politician who was associated with the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

In July, Toronto City Council voted 17-7 in favour of a motion to rename the street, along with subway stations, a library, Yonge-Dundas Square, and a number of parks. The city estimates that it would cost as much as $6.3 million to make the changes.

But one former Toronto resident says the city could save millions of dollars, and the inconvenience that would fall on the more than 97,000 residents and 4,500 businesses that would be forced to change their address.

“Why not just change the name of the person after whom the street was named rather than change the street?” It’s a simple question, and one that John Cowan hopes could solve the Dundas Street issue.

Cowan once lived on Dundas, and worked as both a cab driver and an ambulance dispatcher in the city. He told CTV News Toronto that after hearing about the city’s plan — and the associated cost — it only took him a few minutes to find another, more deserving Dundas.

“I thought there has to be somebody else around here named Dundas, after whom we could name the street.”

Cowan suggests the city could honour one of its fallen citizens, Captain George Dundas, who was a student at the University of Toronto and fought in the First World War.

According to the school’s Roll of Service, in 1915, Dundas enlisted in the Eaton Machine Gun Battery, and in 1916 he joined the 161st Bridge in France. He was awarded the Military Cross twice, the first time in October of that year for conspicuous bravery under heavy fire. In September of 1917 he was gassed, and in 1918 he was killed in action east of Amiens, France.

Dundas

Cowan says by honouring George Dundas, the city would also be paying tribute to the thousands of men and women who gave their lives during the Great War, while at the same time erasing the tribute to Henry Dundas.

“If they just decided to pick a different namesake, and made a public announcement on why they’re doing it, they could divorce themselves from the history of Henry Dundas…and problem solved. All the people who live on Dundas wouldn’t have to go through the hassle of changing their address on their driver’s licence, their health card, the bank, anywhere they have credit cards, all of that. It would be a massive disruption for anybody who lives on that street.”

Toronto’s mayor didn’t dismiss the idea, saying “we’ve heard that suggestion before” and that “there are a couple of Dundas people worthy of recognition.”

But the mayor says a community committee will be tasked with examining all of the options for the future of the street, and their recommendations will be presented to council in the second quarter of 2022, when a decision on the future of Dundas Street will be made.  

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