To rename or not to rename

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“Cease and desist renaming Dundas Street”. Those are the strong words emailed to the Times by a Toronto local who clearly believes that there are bigger issues facing the massive city than the name of one its busiest streets. Why is a Toronto resident emailing a North Dundas newspaper? It is quite likely that in searching for media who might print his rant, he came across the North Dundas Times website and assumed it was a small newspaper located on Toronto’s Dundas Street!

Even though Toronto business does not usually concern North Dundas residents, in this case, there is an important link. Toronto’s Dundas Street will likely be renamed after all, as decided by that city’s Council in 2021. A committee is currently at work attempting to pick a more suitable name. Why all the fuss? The street – just like the Township of North Dundas – was named after Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville, who was a British politician active about 200 years ago. He stands posthumously accused of delaying the end of the slave trade, which makes him a clear candidate for having streets and municipalities “un-named” after him. Toronto is taking such action. 

For more information on Henry Dundas, readers are encouraged to read an article by David Shanahan in the current issue of the Times written in honour of emancipation month. Perhaps the facts will help you form your own opinion. Notably, Henry Dundas is not accused of being pro-slavery, but rather of delaying its abolition through a policy recommendation. 

Regardless of feelings regarding Henry Dundas, all of this re-naming business can be quite complicated, and is perhaps not coming at the best time in this country, economically. It is estimated that the renaming of Toronto’s Dundas Street will cost millions of dollars, as countless businesses and residences will have to change their addresses, signage will have to be changed, and there are surely a large number of unforeseen costs that will materialize from the move. 

What I propose instead is simple, and yet better: re-dedicate all things Dundas. Re-name them to the same name, in honour of someone else. There are plenty of choices. 

Looking for a hero to name Dundas Street or North Dundas after? How about Hugh Dundas (1920-1995), a British fighter pilot who served in World War II, fighting Nazis to help end their terrorizing mission of horrific, culturally-motivated killing. Another hero – this one who gave his life – is John Dundas, who died in 1940 in combat at just 25 years of age, once again fighting for our freedom and the freedom of the innocent victims of the Holocaust. 

Looking for someone smart? There is always William John Dundas, a Scottish lawyer, mathematician and banker who died in 1921. Trying to emphasize the importance of Canada’s cultural mosaic? How about naming North Dundas after Paul Dundas, head of Asian Studies at the University of Edinburgh, who passed away in April of this year. 

Want to celebrate our connection to the arts? Why not dedicate Dundas Street and North Dundas Township to Lord David Dundas, a musician, songwriter, and actor who was a popular music star in the 1970s. Another choice would be Adela Dundas, a notable artist and church official from the 1800s. 

If you really want to go back far in history and commemorate a lifesaver and pioneer in the early days of modern medicine, I suggest honouring the name of Sir David Dundas, an accomplished surgeon who lived from 1749 to 1826.

I could go on and on and on. Dundas is just a surname. It is the name of likely hundreds if not thousands of people who have lived and are still living. There is no need to make it into a swear word. It appears at the top of the front page of every issue of this newspaper. It’s a word that appears in the name of our Township’s only high school. It’s a name ascribed to countless local businesses, and even to our local long term care home – Dundas Manor. 

Erasing history makes us more likely to repeat it. Instead, let’s not only remember for whom North Dundas was named, but also celebrate all those who lived after him, a symbol of society’s progress, developing one day at a time just like the beautiful community we call home. 

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