Dundas Street in Toronto is named after Henry Dundas (1742-1811), a British politician who used his position to delay the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade when he was in a position to end it earlier.

The slave trade was made illegal in the British Empire in 1807 though slavery itself was not outlawed (throughout the Empire) until 1833. 

Since the widespread Black Lives Matter protests last year the City of Toronto has been considering changing the name of one of its busiest thoroughfares – Dundas Street. Next month its Executive Committee will report on the outcome of a public consultation and the options available. The City could do nothing (unlikely) or 

  1. Retain the legal street names with additional interpretation and recognitions.
  2. Retain the legal street names but rename those civic assets with Dundas in their name, except TTC facilities.
  3. Rename the streets and all other civic assets now carrying the Dundas name.

Rename Dundas Street

Personally, I am in favour of renaming the street although the staff warn this could be expensive to businesses, residents and property owners. I wait to see how much this could cost.

Henry Dundas – later Lord Melville – was born just outside Edinburgh and was educated in the City becoming a lawyer first and then a politician. As a boy I regularly walked along Edinburgh’s Dundas Street totally unaware of the history and character of the man it commemorated. In the same way I never gave a moment's thought to the huge 150ft column in St Andrew’s Square with its statue of Henry Dundas, Ist Viscount Melville on top, surveying the city for almost 200 years.

Last year, after a wide-ranging public debate about what should happen to the monument, Edinburgh City Council installed a new permanent plaque at its base. It reads: 

At the top of this neoclassical column stands a statue of Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville (1742-1811). He was the Scottish Lord Advocate and an MP for Edinburgh and Midlothian, and the First Lord of the Admiralty. Dundas was a contentious figure, provoking controversies that resonate to this day. While Home Secretary in 1792 and first Secretary of State for War in 1796 he was instrumental in deferring the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade. Slave trading by British ships was not abolished until 1807. As a result of this delay, more than half a million enslaved Africans crossed the Atlantic. Dundas also curbed democratic dissent in Scotland, and both defended and expanded the British empire, imposing colonial rule on indigenous peoples. He was impeached in the United Kingdom for misappropriation of public money, and, although acquitted, he never held public office again. Despite this, the monument before you to Henry Dundas was funded by voluntary contribution from British naval officers, petty officers, seamen, and marines and erected in 1821, with the statue placed on top in 1827.

In 2020 this plaque was dedicated to the memory of the more than half a million Africans whose enslavement was a consequence of Henry Dundas’s actions. 

"Gradual Abolition"

Dundas believed in the “gradual” abolition of the slave trade. His words can be read in the Parliamentary debates of the time. On 2 April 1792 he told MPs there was a "middle way" stopping short of immediate abolition:

“I mean to offer a moderate and middle way of proceeding. If therefore there is any great body in the House, any respectable number of persons who are of opinion with me, that this trade must be ultimately abolished, but by moderate measures, which shall not invade the property of individuals, nor shock too suddenly the prejudices of our West Indian Islands; I say if there is any great body of men with this opinion, I wish them to connect themselves together and I will venture to say, that Gentlemen of that moderate or middle way of thinking, may now reduce the question to its proper bounds, and maintain the principle of abolishing the Slave Trade in consistency with other principles.”

Melanie Newton, an associate professor of history at the University of Toronto, says this:

Far from contributing to the slave trade’s abolition, Dundas’s ‘gradual abolition’ resulted in an immediate, devastating and unprecedented escalation of transatlantic human trafficking. The period from 1793-1807, after Parliament agreed to ‘gradual’ abolition’, witnessed the most consistently high volume of Africans transported to the British Caribbean in the entire history of the slave trade (574,370, or an average of 38,391 per year). 295,017 of those people were transported when Dundas was colonial secretary from 1794-1801. 

Statues to slavers are toppling

Since last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests in the UK memorials to slavers have been coming down. Universities, municipalities and others have been quietly renaming buildings. And Council leaders have been warning the Government in London to stay out of decisions which should be made locally. Some people claim their ancestors have been maligned. Others say decisions taken centuries ago have no contemporary relevance. 

The Scots were disproportionately involved in the slave trade as slave owners, financiers, lawyers and facilitators.

And they grew fat on the proceeds. Indeed, slavery shaped Edinburgh's historic New Town - a part of the world I know like the back of my hand.

Yet until recently these legacies of the slave trade were hidden in full view.

Fortunes made

The UCL British Slave Ownership Project shows how slavery made fortunes for the traders, their facilitators and their dependents.

In 1833 when slavery itself (and not just the slave trade) was abolished throughout the British Empire, British slave owners were compensated by the British Government to the tune of millions of dollars in today's money. Indeed, within spitting distance of the neighbourhood where I grew up in Edinburgh stand houses whose then occupants were generously compensated for the loss of their slaves.

In the fascinating book from Historic England, Slavery and the British Country House, we learn: 

“…across Britain as a whole, the slave compensation data suggests that in the 1830s 5% to 10% of all British country houses would have been occupied by slave owners and that in some localities and even some regions the figure would be much higher.” 

Mansions built from the profits of slavery

1.17 million Africans were transported into slavery in ships belonging to the port of Liverpool. One of these Liverpool slave traders, John Bolton, owned Storrs Hall in the Lake District which he "substantially enlarged and remodelled" in 1808-9. It is now a country house hotel. The association with Bolton no doubt erased. 

North of the border in Scotland the Cruickshanks were major investors in St Vincent in the Caribbean. The family owned nine sugar estates during the years 1814 – 1834. This mansion, Stracathro, was built for Alexander Cruickshank in 1824-27. The present-day owner has recently sold the vast building for a song (relatively) unable to afford the vast upkeep.

These stately homes and countless others came at a terrible cost in Black lives.

Professor Newton writes:

"... my first ancestor in this hemisphere probably came over in the hold of a slave ship, likely to Barbados, where I was born. I am a historian by profession. I have spent countless hours in the archives of the British empire. Even with my training, I could go through the cargo lists of a thousand slave ships and see the name of my first ancestor in the Americas and never know I had read it. I can never find that name, it is lost to history, it is lost to me. I have men like Dundas to thank for that.

So, does the name of a street matter? Does the name Dundas matter? My answer is simple: change has to begin somewhere and names mean everything."

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Graphic right from the Toronto Star.

Update on 27 February 2021: The Dundas family has lived at Arniston House, near Edinburgh, since 1571. In an article on their website they take issue with the recent portrayal of Henry Dundas as a politician who dragged his feet on the abolition of the Slave Trade. He is painted as a pragmatist, someone who persuaded the House of Commons to agree to the gradual abolition of the Slave Trade as this was the only realistic option open at the time. 

Update on 2 March 2021: From the Guardian (UK): Bristol Council calls for Parliamentary Inquiry into Slavery Reparations

Update on 4 April 2021: from the Guardian: Wealthy MP with Slave Trade links failed to publish accounts for four of his five companies.

Henry Dundas (highlighted) in Karl Anton Hickel's portrait of the House of Commons 1793-95. The National Portrait Gallery, London.

Bill Blair, the Public Safety Minister, believes the Government’s new firearms bill will keep handguns off the streets without a Federal ban.  

This is, of course, complete nonsense.

The Government says all municipalities can enact by-laws regulating firearms within their own areas.  But they need the OK from their Province first.

And Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario have all ruled out any possibility of handguns bans. So where does this leave us?

Ineffective and meaningless

This morning’s Toronto Star describes Bill C21 as an ineffective measure:

“So the Federal Government can say it will support municipalities that want to “create safer communities” by banning handguns, but it comes with a caveat – “if allowed by their province/territory.”

“That makes it all but meaningless in many parts of the country. It leaves Toronto, which is plagued by gun violence and has wanted a handgun ban for years, at the mercy of Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who has repeatedly said he doesn’t believe in such a ban.” 

Ford’s Deputy, Newmarket-Aurora’s Christine Elliott, is also hostile to a handgun ban. In Queen’s Park in 2008 she claimed bizarrely that in Canada

“…we have a handgun ban, for all intents and purposes”

Gun manufacturers liability

Elliott was speaking in the debate on a Private Member’s Bill which would make firearm manufacturers and importers liable for harm caused by the unlawful use of a handgun. She told MPPs that would never happen:

“What the member is really trying to get at here is to take a product that's actually legal - because the manufacture of guns is legal - and make it into an illegal product. So if it's used for an illegal purpose, the manufacture is going to be responsible, no matter how it's used. That simply can't exist. It doesn't make any sense.”

Danforth Shooting

But this is precisely the issue with the Danforth mass shooting where survivors of the massacre in July 2018 allege the manufacturer of the handgun which was used to kill and main people (Smith & Wesson) failed to incorporate safety features into its guns. They point to “authorised user” technology where only an authorised user could pull the trigger. They are claiming damages of $150M.

Our own MP, Tony Van Bynen, told us before the election he was in favour of a ban on handguns but he has been quiet as a mouse since. A year ago, when I asked him if he supported the Danforth Class Action I didn’t get a reply. 

But when Bill C21 comes up for debate I hope he pauses for a moment and thinks about Danielle Kane, the young woman caught up in the Danforth shooting and is now left paralysed from the waist down. (photo above)

Would Bill C21 protect innocents like her in future?

Of course not.

So what is he going to do about it?

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Here is the Department of Public Safety briefing on Bill C21.

See also this blog: Danforth class action against Smith & Wesson allowed to proceed.

Update on 18 February 2021. From the Globe and Mail: The Trudeau Government's Gun Bill is not what Canada needs

America needs a 9/11 type Commission to tell the story of the invasion of the US Capitol on 6 January 2021 and to make recommendations to ensure nothing like it can ever happen again. 

Donald John Trump is not out of the woods yet.  

The original 9/11 Commission took 20 months to report and made three dozen recommendations. If Congress acts swiftly we could get a report well before the mid-term elections in November 2022. 

Perfect timing, I’d say.

I sat through the Senate impeachment trial transfixed, marvelling at the skill and eloquence of the House Managers led by the hugely impressive Jamie Raskin. 

Hearing but not listening

The Senators heard what was said but too many were not listening.

The United States Senate is not “the greatest deliberative body in the world” as we are forever being told. Far from it. The impeachment trial showed it to be a joke institution, unwilling to convict on the clearest evidence of guilt.

In a surreal moment, the Senate Republican minority leader, Mitch McConnell, votes to acquit and then tells us Trump was “practically and morally responsible” for the riot.

Good grief!

Clearly, Americans need a 9/11 type Commission to explain in meticulous detail how Trump orchestrated the storming of the US Capitol. And the lessons to be learned.

Trump will say it's fake news. 

But who will believe the old demagogue?

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Update on 16 February 2021: From CNN: Trump attacks McConnell in lengthy statement.

Update on 17 February 2021: From The Hill: Riot Probe likely to focus on McCarthy-Trump Call.

Yesterday I received a letter from Public Safety Canada replying to one I sent to Bill Blair last May about gun violence. 

Eight months is a long time to wait for a reply. But I count myself fortunate.

I’ve written to the Public Safety Minister, Bill Blair, a number of times before, in pre-COVID days, always about firearms, but he has never bothered to get back to me. Personally, I think that’s bad form – particularly from someone as elevated as Mr Blair. So I was pleasantly surprised when I received an answer of sorts even if it came from Talal Dakalbab, a senior civil servant in the Ministry, rather than the great man himself.

I wanted to know:

(1)          What estimate the Minister has made of the cost to Municipalities of (a) implementing and maintaining a local ban on handguns or (b) restricting access to handguns?

(2)          If the Minister will make it his policy to collect statistics on the number of people who have been left permanently disabled as a result of a handgun assault, specifying in each case the nature of the injury?

(3)          How many persons under the age of 18 have been (a) fatally shot and (b) wounded in each of the last 10 years by someone using a handgun?

One year ago to the very day (on 26 January 2020) I wrote to my MP, Tony Van Bynen, asking if he would table these questions in Parliament. But nothing happened. No acknowledgement. Just silence.

Then, three months later, on 26 April 2020, in the wake of the terrible massacre in Nova Scotia, Van Bynen stirred himself, telling me he would submit my email correspondence to Minister Blair.

If he did, my questions were lost somewhere along the way.

But the helpful Mr Dakalbab tells me that if I would like a reply to my questions I should resubmit them.

Which is precisely what I intend to do.


These are increasingly dangerous days in Newmarket. Here Newmarket Today covers the latest outrage. And why I believe the Liberal Government will not ban handguns.

Update on 28 January 2021: From the Globe and Mail: Quebec City Mosque co-founder decries lack of Federal progress on handgun control. And from the CBC - four years after the slaughter in Quebec.

Update on 30 January 2021: From the Montreal Gazette. Events to mark anniversary of mosque massacre begin with calls for gun control. See also Justin Trudeau blames Provinces for Canada's inaction on Municipal handgun bans (from Peterborough Examiner 13 November 2020)

Click "Read more" below to read my emails to Tony Van Bynen MP and the Minister, Bill Blair. And the letter I received from Mr Dakalbab.

Metrolinx is asking the public to comment on their “New Track and Facilities Environmental Project Report” which shows how the Barrie rail corridor will be upgraded to accommodate the new gold-plated all-day two-way 15-minute train service from Toronto's Union Station to Aurora. The deadline for comments is Thursday 28 January.

Newmarket and all stations north to Barrie are promised, by contrast, a 30-minute rush hour service during the morning peak period from 6.30am – 9.30am. 

The report looks at the impact of the plans on the natural and built environment. Comments will land on the desk of the Province’s Minister of the Environment, Jeff Yurek.

As recently as 4 November 2020 Metrolinx was still dangling the prospect before us of an all-day two-way 15-minute service along the entire corridor, all the way from Toronto to Barrie. 

Pipe Dream

But this is just a pipe-dream unless (a) the Province commits to future funding and (b) safeguards the land needed for grade separations. Without these grade separations a 15-minute service is impossible. The Provincial Government and its agency Metrolinx will commit to neither. 

At its Council meeting on 22 September last year, the Town of East Gwillimbury – an area represented by the Minister of Transportation, Caroline Mulroney – called on the Ministry and Metrolinx to bring forward grade separation into Phase 1 (to 2027) as the Town and surrounding area were growing rapidly and needed a fast rail service.  Simcoe County is projected to grow by 37% over the next twenty years.

East Gwillimbury asked Metrolinx to:

"proactively advance a 2nd Implementation Phase of the GO Expansion Program and extend all-day, two-way, 15-minute service to East Gwillimbury GO Station”

and prioritise the existing Green Lane at-grade rail crossing for grade separation.

The Town admitted last week it still hadn’t received a response from either the Ministry or Metrolinx – four months after the request was made. 

Twin tracked

The rail corridor through Newmarket (until a point just north of the Newmarket GO Rail Station at the Tannery) is to be twin tracked. But these are described by Metrolinx as “passing tracks” to accommodate additional train movements. Some trains will, no doubt, be running empty, going to the proposed new layover in Bradford. But the level crossing barriers will still have to come down at Davis Drive and Mulock Drive to accommodate these train movements.

Without grade separation the traffic on Davis Drive (with its bus rapidway) and Mulock Drive (the busiest road in town) is likely to become severely congested. (Above: the rail corridor at Davis Drive)

Here in Newmarket we can expect to see the latest refined version of the Mulock Secondary Plan in the Spring setting out the Town’s vision for developing the land around the proposed new Mulock GO Rail Station. How much land, if any, will be safeguarded for over or underpasses? Or does the Town simply attach a health warning advising developers that some land around the station is likely to be acquired by compulsory purchase at some point in the future?

In the draft plan buildings up to 12 storeys are shown as the preferred form of development on the land closest to the new station.

Metrolinx tells me:

“Should 15-minute service be extended north of Aurora, Metrolinx may undertake further analysis on grade separations in Newmarket.” 


On 17 January Metrolinx became aware that their public engagement site had been hacked:

“Regrettably, the names, email addresses and in some very limited cases, street addresses and phone numbers of participants who commented as part of the public consultation process were not properly redacted in error and could be accessed by the public. We are writing to advise you that contact information you submitted was affected by this incident.”

Metrolinx has informed the Information and Privacy Commissioner. But for days the consultation report could not be accessed by members of the public wishing to comment. I don’t know how this might affect, if at all, the adequacy of the consultation period which is specified by statute. 

The Environmental Project Report itself is a daunting slab of text and graphics, designed to intimidate by sheer volume alone. But is there anything we in Newmarket should be particularly concerned about?

Heritage Buildings and Construction Vibration

In Chapter 7 the report looks at vibration impacts on heritage buildings. We are told the new tracks and switches which will be laid through the Newmarket stretch of the corridor:

 “will require excavation, backfilling and compaction prior to installation”.  

Properties (described as “built heritage resources”) at risk of vibration damage include the old railway station in Davis Drive (occupied by the Chamber of Commerce) and others in Cotter Street and Franklin Street. In total 11 properties could be affected. I am sure Metrolinx will do the right thing. But the Town may have its Construction Vibration By-law in place by the time the work starts

I hope so.

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Update on 20 February 2021: Metrolinx has yet to address the points made in East Gwillimbury's Council Resolution of 22 September 2020.

Click below to see an aerial view of the planned new track work from Newmarket's boundary with Aurora to just north of the GO Rail Station at Davis Drive.