The street that crosses Little Portugal, in Toronto, will change its name due to the connection of the designation to slavery, a decision that ‘moves’ with many emigrants who highlight the symbolism that Dundas Street has for the Portuguese.
“Dundas was basically the mother street of all Portuguese people”, explained to Lusa the Portuguese-Canadian Miguel da Silva, who has been in Canada since 1985, who said he understood the decision of the authorities to change the name of the art and of all toponymies related to Henry Dundas.
The street, the most famous in Pequeno Portugal, the Portuguese zone in Toronto, pays tribute to the memory of an 18th century Scottish politician, famous for delaying, in 1793, the abolition of transatlantic slavery for 15 years, condemning more than 600,000 people another decade of slavery.
According to Miguel Silva, “few knew the meaning” of Dundas. The street spans 23 kilometers across Toronto, there are more than 730 signs with that designation, and the change of address affects the lives of 97,000 people and 4,500 small and medium-sized businesses.
In July of this year, the municipal executive decided to approve the removal of the name Dundas, a decision that a specific street, squares, parks and two metro stations.
“This is not the first time this has happened in Canada. During World War I we had a city called Berlin and today it is known as Kitchener. At that time it was the complete change of the name of a city, which for obvious reasons, the name was changed. This is not unprecedented in Canada”, he began by telling the Lusa Ana Bailão agency.
The vice president of the Toronto City Council and also a councilor for Davenport, explained that Dundas Street “is huge, populous, very well known”, and this process of changing the name “will take some time” and no new ones can be chosen designations, often in local popular consultations.
In June, an internal report by the autarchy recommended the elimination of the name Dundas, after a petition signed by more than 14,000 people, launched in 2020, following the protests against racism that took place globally.
Henry Dandas “suggested that the abolition of slavery be done gradually, as he had concerns not that it would happen to those people, who had become slaves,” stressed Canadian historian Rosemary Sadlier.
The also first Viscount de Melville and Secretary of State for War for the British Empire tried to regain control of Haiti and Grenada, but without success. “40,000 British military personnel lost their lives in this effort, or recognized incapacitated. So he bought 13,400 African slaves to join the British army in the Caribbean, which made the British the biggest slave buyers in the world”, stressed the specialist in Afro-Canadian history.
However, on the other hand, “many of the names called to the streets in the city of Toronto have a connection with an influential family in the slave trade”.
“In a way, he was opposed to the end of slavery on British soil, but he did not mind using African slaves to contribute to the British economy and army”, highlighted Rosemary Sadlier.
The Small Portugal Commercial and Services Association at Dundas will also have to change its name, renamed ´Little Portugal in Toronto BIA´, something that Anabela Taborda, an organization president, said she is already prepared.
“Already prepared for this. I am in solidarity with all those affected by Henry Dundas and I am in favor of the name change”, he stressed.
A consultative commission was created by the Canadian municipality, integrating competent leaders from various ethnic groups, businessmen and association leaders, including Anabela Taborda, with the objective of proposing a new designation for the street, by the second quarter of 2022.
“We have to look at us Portuguese, with the situation of Ponte 25 de Abril, which was called Ponte Salazar. Many people felt hurt by the former dictator. We are in the same situation, we all have to live together and if someone is suffering, we have to lend a hand and help”, he added.
Dundas Street has a special connection with the Portuguese community, which in the 50’s, with the official immigration to Canada, started by settling on Avenida Augusta, in the Kensington Market area, later expanding to Dundas.
The Portuguese-Canadian incident Miguel da Silva admits that “now the Portuguese in Canada know the meaning of the street and who Henry Dundas was”.
“I can’t say if I agree with changing the name, but I’ve never agreed with slavery, but if we look at how many politicians and personalities like Henry Dundas have street names in Canada”, questioned the owner of the café and bar Amigos da Dundas.
The change of this designation, from Dundas in Toronto, will cost an additional six million Canadian dollars (€4.22 million) for the municipality.
“It is a custom that has to be overcome in order to reconcile with our history, a recognition of what has been done, we cannot erase history, we have to recognize what has been done and improve how we will act in the future”, warned Ana Bailão.
The municipality also hopes to put in its budget financial support for all those affected by this change.
There are also those who suggest that the street retains the name Dundas, in honor of Captain George Dundas, a former student at the University of Toronto, who fought in the First World War and lost his life in combat in 1918, thus serving players of men and women who fight in the Great War.
A petition emerged this summer suggesting that the street be named after the controversial late former mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford.
Other Canadian cities in southern Ontario, such as Mississauga, Hamilton and London, also share Dundas Street but so far have not announced whether they will change the artery’s name.
Also, Ryerson University in Toronto decided to change the name, as Egerton Ryerson is known as the Canadian architect of First Nations residential schools.
Farther west in the country, in Saskatoon, in the province of Saskatchewan, the county also decided to rename the John A. Macdonald road, given the importance of Canada’s former prime minister in creating the residential school system.