DUNDAS COUNTY — In line with Toronto City Council’s decision to unceremoniously dump the ‘Dundas’ in Dundas Street, should Ontario’s other Dundases similarly find another moniker?
Eastern Ontario’s flat-as- a-pancake Dundas County may be synonymous with agriculture and pastoral farm country, but its name has taken on an entirely negative connotation in the provincial capital these days.
Likewise, the southern Ontario town (now part of Hamilton) also takes its name from Henry Dundas of Scotland, an historical figure today derided as a legislator who delayed the abolition of slavery in the British Empire more than 200 years ago.
But Dundas also has his defenders as the MP who tried to abolish slavery in 1792. His offence was the addition of one word to a bill. He added the word “gradual” to read “gradual abolition” of slavery because the original bill did not pass. But even the compromise bill was quashed by the House of Lords anyway and slavery wasn’t abolished in Britain for another 15 years.
In any case, the mayors of both rural communities comprising Dundas County aren’t ready to give a heave-ho to their namesake. Nor does the mayor of Hamilton see his city following Toronto’s lead just yet when it comes to the former “Valley Town” — Dundas — that still exists on signs if not as a legally constituted municipality anymore.
The name’ is “very close” to the heart of those Dundas residents who “likely won’t want it to change,” Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger acknowledged on the 900 CHML Bill Kelly show last month. “People identify with their place, their community, and that name is that connection. I don’t think you wash that away quickly, but having a conversation around that I think is a reasonable thing to do.”
Repeatedly emphasizing the need for “conversation” on the issue, the mayor sug-gested a look at the Dundas name could be incorporated into a city review now underway regarding city landmarks, statues and “place-making.”
North Dundas Mayor Tony Fraser — representing one half of Dundas County — observed that while there are “many things we should be concerned about … it’s a slippery slope once we start going down this path.
“Where do you stop? How did this country come to be? We were a colony. Where do we go from here? Do we all go back to where we came from and leave where we live, work and raise our families?” he asked.
As for Henry Dundas, “he was an abolitionist,” the local cheese plant employee pointed out, “in my lay person’s understanding of it.”
The North Dundas mayor also highlighted the cost of spending millions to make a name change “during these times when we have businesses closing and doing the pandemic pivot.”
As in the case of Toronto, a slew of local entities would require new names if there were a serious push to ditch Dundas. In addition to both local municipalities, the upper-tier United Counties of Stormont, Dundas and Glen- garry would need editing — including the local OPP detachment — and many other agencies and private businesses.
South Dundas Mayor Steven Byvelds pointed out that a local debate over the name Dundas took place last year.
“As much as Henry Dundas has a history we can’t be proud of, there was no real appetite at the time to change the name Dundas,” Byvelds, a cash-cropper recalled.
Dundas Federation of Agriculture President Ryan DeVries said the Dundas name is “not really an issue” for his organization. “That’s more of a municipal or county issue. As long as we’re Dundas County, we’ll continue to be called the Dundas Federation of Agriculture.”