BRAUN: Fixing T.O’s lousy history would mean tearing down half the city

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The statue of Egerton Ryerson is gone.

Some 14,000 people have signed a petition calling for Dundas Street to be renamed.

Now the statue of Alexander Wood on Church Street has to go because of Wood’s involvement in the residential school system.

Seems there’s a whole crowd of dubious white guys connected to Toronto’s history, and some of their stories are currently being reexamined.

The battle continues over Ryerson’s legacy. The educator is viewed by some as the architect of the residential school system, and by others as the fall guy for John A. Macdonald; historians tend to see Ryerson in a positive light, but that’s not a popular stance right now.

Henry Dundas is another story altogether.

Scottish politician Dundas — aka Lord Melville — contributed to a 15-year delay in the abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, a move that meant hundreds of thousands more were enslaved in British territories.

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He got caught with his hand in the till while first lord of the Admiralty, and he made a grab for France’s Caribbean slaving empire, sacrificing thousands of British troops in the effort.

Dundas wasinvolved in the genocide of the Garifuna on the island of St. Vincent and was generally a despicable guy.

We’re not alone in our city dilemma over the name Dundas. The people of Edinburgh, where there’s a 150-foot statue of Dundas, are likewise conflicted.

We’re not alone in our city dilemma over the name Dundas. The people of Edinburgh, where there’s a 150-foot statue of Dundas, are likewise conflicted. GETTY IMAGES FILE
We’re not alone in our city dilemma over the name Dundas. The people of Edinburgh, where there’s a 150-foot statue of Dundas, are likewise conflicted. GETTY IMAGES FILE

Then we have William Jarvis, a notorious city forefather who kept slaves and pushed for the maintenance of slavery throughout Upper Canada.

William’s son Samuel Jarvis owned the land that eventually yielded Jarvis Street and Jarvis Collegiate; he had to sell his property in the area when, as chief superintendent of Indian affairs for Upper Canada, he was caught stealing from the government.

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A history of the Jarvis machinations by former Jarvis Collegiate staff member David Schreiber describes both men as lazy, incompetent and dishonest; Samuel also had a violent history.

Another pro-slave prominent name belongs to James Baby, for whom the west-end enclave Baby Point is named. He kept both Black and Indigenous slaves; ironically, an ancient aboriginal trail is located in the Baby Point neighbourhood and that part of Toronto was once the Teiaiagon Iroquois Village.

Peter Russell — remembered in both Peter St. and Russell Hill Rd. — kept slaves. He was also imprisoned for debts due to a serious gambling addiction. He was a vain, cruel, dishonest man who amassed a huge estate by seizing land belonging to others.

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Finally, there’s Alexander Wood. Formerly praised as one of Toronto’s distinguished founding citizens and honoured as a forefather of the city’s modern gay community, Wood was involved in a society that contributed to the organization of the residential school system.

There are calls for his statue to be removed from Church St; both Wood and Alexander Sts. in Toronto bear his name.

Our first Prime Minister, Conservative leader John A. Macdonald, is known for Indigenous genocide and generally behaving like the white nationalist he was.

Here in Toronto, at least, there are signs of positive change.

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Henry Dundas was such a wrong guy that after that petition about expunging his name was circulated, Mayor John Tory and City Council directed the City Manager to look at existing commemorative policies and figure out a new framework to guide the city about honouring people or events.

Those findings will be reported on July 6.

  1. A person stands on a plinth after the defaced statue of Egerton Ryerson, considered an architect of Canada's residential indigenous school system, lies on the pavement after being toppled following a protest at Ryerson University in Toronto, Ontario, Canada June 6, 2021.

    EDITORIAL: X University caves to cancel culture

  2. The Egerton Ryerson statue was toppled Sunday night.

    BONOKOSKI: If Ryerson changes its name, there shall be fire

  3. A statue Egerton Ryerson was defaced at Ryerson University.

    BRAUN: Statue of Egerton Ryerson may have to go

Last summer, an anonymous citizen put up fake (but impressive) historical plaques around the city that told the truth about Jarvis, Baby and other slave owners.

Some would call that a very good start.

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