Toronto’s Yonge-Dundas Square renamed to Sankofa Square

Toronto city council voted to rename Yonge-Dundas Square to Sankofa Square and recommended a host of other landmarks be stripped of the Dundas name over connections to the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

The move comes more than three years after council first received a petition raising concerns about the name at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in the United States.

In a late council session in December last year, councillors voted 19-2 to rename Yonge-Dundas Square. Coun. Jaye Robinson, who represents Ward 15, and Coun. Stephen Holyday, who represents Ward 2, voted against the move. 

Dundas Street and other similarly named landmarks are named after Henry Dundas, a Scottish politician active from the 1770s to the early 1800s, when the British Parliament was debating slavery abolition motions.

Dundas introduced a motion to stall abolition, but there has been some debate about his intentions. While he has been criticized as attempting to prolong slavery, one descendent of Dundas, Bobby Dundas, has argued he was trying to be strategic with his “gradual abolition” motion.

Last year, Coun. Chris Moise tabled a motion recommending the square’s name be changed to Sankofa Square by the second quarter of 2024. “The concept of Sankofa, originating in Ghana, refers to the act of reflecting on and reclaiming teachings from the past, which enables us to move forward together,” the motion said.

Dundas Station is pictured here. The station is located at Yonge-Dundas Square. (CBC)

The new name was decided upon unanimously by a renaming advisory committee that included external experts, the motion added.

Dundas Street won’t be renamed for now

Meanwhile, Jane/Dundas Library will be renamed by the second or third quarter of 2024. The motion also recommended that the Dundas and Dundas West subway stations be renamed in the fourth quarter of 2024 and 2025, respectively.

Council agreed to rename the subway stations by a vote of 19-2, but it changed the language to request that the TTC board remove the name Dundas, rather than direct it to do so. As for Dundas Street, council received a petition signed by 14,000 people in June 2020 calling for it to be renamed.

City council voted in July 2021 to rename the street but decided not to move ahead because of concerns over cost, instead opting to rename other landmarks. The city estimated the cost of renaming four civic assets and a public education campaign around the changes to be about $2.7 million over two years. 

In August 2023, the city pegged the cost of renaming Dundas Street at $8.6 million, out of a total $16.17-billion operating budget. By the fall, that estimate had ballooned to $12.7 million. 

Chow says new name ‘enables us to move forward’

Mayor Olivia Chow, who supported the motion, said in council that Dundas’s actions were “horrific” and that he wanted to delay the end of the slave trade over concerns about who would work on colonial plantations. 

“It’s heartbreaking, and of course there’s been extensive debate,” Chow said. “But ultimately we are charting a path forward, one that is addressing community concerns,” she said. The committee spent two years on the new name and it was not picked arbitrarily, she added.

“It enables us to move forward together, it’s just beautiful. I couldn’t think of a better name for a gathering place at the heart of our city,” she said. 

Coun. Robinson said she would not support the motion because the public did not get to weigh in on the name. Coun. Holyday said he feels council is wrong about the Dundas name and that the renaming could damage public trust in government.

Source: CBC

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