‘I’m surprised no one’s done anything about that’: Residents push to change ‘Indian’ street names as debate over Dundas heads to council


Residents in the city’s west end say changing the street names in their area is long overdue, with the outdated and offensive “Indian” printed on signs all over.

Home to Indian Road, Indian Road Crescent, Indian Grove, Indian Trail and Indian Valley Crescent, locals in the High Park-Junction area and their councillor have been trying to get the names changed. Now with a reckoning over meaningful reconciliation with Indigenous peoples in the country and plans to change Dundas Street, they say the residential roads near them are also prime candidates for renaming.

“People will squawk about it, but it will be over and done in a matter of months,” said Mandy Moore, who lives on Indian Road. “When we bought the house I remember thinking ‘I’m surprised no one’s done anything about that.’”

That conversation comes as Mayor John Tory’s executive committee on Tuesday approved moving forward with renaming the 25 kilometres of Dundas Street that run through the city, as recommended in a staff report last week. Council will vote on the plan next week. If approved, an advisory committee will be created to come up with a list of new names.

That decision has potentially opened the floodgates about city names, with Dundas unlikely to be the last street sign to come down.

The staff report mentioned a list of 60 other street names that could be subject to a review process that has not yet been established — from Rhodes Avenue in the Upper Beaches to Churchill Avenue in North York. While many agree the Indian road names need changing, that list also contains Yonge Street and other major thoroughfares named for historical figures like Jarvis, John, Simcoe and Wellesley streets that would come with a significant cost to change as well as debate.

In a letter to the executive committee published this week, Michelle Daigle, an assistant professor in geography and planning at the University of Toronto and cross-appointed to the Centre for Indigenous Studies, wrote there is meaning in replacing oppressive legacies of colonial rule on city streets.

“Making this change,” the Cree nation and Constance Lake First Nation in Treaty 9 member said of Dundas Street, “will speak volumes to the diverse members of Indigenous, Black and culturally diverse members of our community who have increasingly spoken up over the last several years, following the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Report in 2015 and the uprisings against anti-Black racism in the summer of 2020.”

Coun. Gord Perks (Ward 4 Parkdale-High Park) told the Star he’s previously raised the Indian names with city staff.

“I’ve been waiting for staff to get to work on that,” he said.

“Changing the name of a street actually requires a whole lot of back of office work that people don’t see.”

Perks said he’d hoped the staff report on Dundas Street — named for Henry Dundas, a Scottish lawyer and British colonial minister who is said to have helped prolong the slave trade — would have presented a process for dealing with that and other problematic street names. Instead, staff recommend coming back with a plan in 2022.

“That bothers me,” Perks said, noting it’s “obvious” that the streets with Indian in the name have to be renamed and that several of his residents have complained.

“They should be near the top of the list.”

Indian Road was the creation of John George Howard, a British colonial settler who, according to an article by the Ontario Historical Society published in 2009, paid to have what was formerly an Indigenous trail turning into a public street named Indian Road running from Bloor Street to Lakeshore Road and connecting his High Park estate — now a public park.

Today, despite its ongoing legal usage, the term “Indian” is widely seen as offensive, derogatory — akin to slurs used against other BIPOC groups — and connected to racist, punitive and oppressive government structures like the Indian Act and residential schools.

Officially, the Canadian government says “Indigenous peoples” is the “collective name for the original peoples of North America and their descendants.”

Several residents the Star spoke with agreed the Indian names needed to go, while pushing for consultation on renaming with Indigenous communities. They shared guilt about not doing more to change the name sooner.

Rachel LeBeau, who has lived on Indian Road Crescent, said she questioned the street name when she moved and believes it would be a “pretty painless process” for homeowners to change it.

“I really think it would just be a minor inconvenience,” she said. “Why put it off?”

Erin Masters grew up in the area on nearby Kenneth Avenue and attended the still-named Indian Road Crescent Junior Public School.

While she noted she wouldn’t be affected by the change now, it’s been something her former neighbours have long been waiting for.

In the early 2000s, she said she remembered her school dropped any insignia depicting a stereotypical profile meant to be an Indigenous person and replaced it with the “Rays” as their logo.

“I remember thinking it was so strange that on one hand we were acknowledging it was a slur … and yet we didn’t change the name,” she said.

Masters said there are much larger issues stemming from colonization, including the need for adequate housing and overpolicing, but that changing the names in her old neighbourhood is a smaller thing the city can do “to rectify what has been just passive disrespect in naming conventions.”

She said there needs to be a meaningful consultation with Indigenous people and allow those groups to choose new names.

City spokesperson Brad Ross said the city’s list of street names is only meant to track those that have been questioned by communities, academic studies or the media, and those that have changed in other Canadian cities.

“Like with Dundas Street, a review, based in historic research and community engagement, would need to be undertaken before a change to a name is considered,” he said in an email. “Depending on the results of this review, a range of actions could be taken, including renaming, providing additional context through plaques or signage, or concluding that no further action is required.”

He said the new framework to be presented to council in 2022 will guide that process.

While some streets like those with Indian in the name may not be subject to much debate, others named after historic figures may face a discussion similar to that being had around Dundas and Ryerson.

That includes prominent roadways like Yonge Street — which stretches 56 kilometres from East Gwillimbury to Lake Ontario. The recent city staff report noted it was named for George Yonge, “a British politician who has been implicated in corruption and slave trafficking.”

Asked Tuesday about his support for renaming other streets, including Yonge, Tory told the Star only that he wants to see staff create a set process to review street names.

“The notion of doing kind of wholesale, long lists of changes — I don’t think is something that is a wise for me to speculate on,” Tory said. “I think what is wise for me to speculate on and insist upon in fact is a process, a very careful, thoughtful process, which the city manager is coming forward with, which will be complete in terms of its examination of history and so on but also recognizing the fact that you can’t be changing names and doing these kinds of things on a continuous basis every day.”

Moore, the Indian Road resident, shared the view of her neighbours that the inconvenience of a name change would be minimal. But she’s worried the city might stop there.

“I think of it as the least we can do. I hope it gets done,” she said.

“My worry always is people will think, ‘Well we changed my street name and that’s my contribution.’ I don’t want it to become just a street name change.”

60 questionable names

A city staff report has identified 60 additional street names that may be reviewed:

Abbey Lane

Alexander Place

Alexander Street

Amherst Avenue

Baby Point Crescent

Baby Point Road

Baby Point Terrace

Brant Place

Brant Street

Breadalbane Street

Castle Frank Crescent

Castle Frank Road

Churchill Avenue (North York)

Churchill Avenue (Toronto)

Colony Road

Columbus Avenue

Columbus Parkette

Cornwallis Drive

Dalhousie Street

Gladstone Avenue

Indian Grove

Indian Mound Crescent

Indian Road

Indian Road Crescent

Indian Trail

Indian Valley Crescent

Jarvis Street

John Street (Toronto)

John Street (York)

Kitchener Avenue

Kitchener Road

Langevin Crescent

Laurier Avenue

Macdonald Avenue

Macdonald Street

Maitland Place

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Maitland Street

McGill Parkette

McGill Street

Old Colony Road

Old Yonge Street

Peter Street

Portland Street

Rhodes Avenue

Russell Hill Drive

Russell Hill Road

Russell Road

Russell Street

Ryerson Avenue

Simcoe Park

Simcoe Street

Vaughan Road

Wellesley Avenue

Wellesley Place

Wellesley Street

Wellington Street

Wood Street

Yonge Blvd

Yonge Street

Wendigo Way

What’s in a name?

Toronto city staff have identified 60 street names other than Dundas that could be problematic. These include at least 12 named after slave owners (Peter Street, Russell Hill Road).

The city is developing a framework to guide the review of current place names. So far, it has released a draft of guiding principles for commemorations

Here are some of the streets staff identified:

Wendigo Way

Wendigo Way is named after a nearby creek on the edge of High Park. The wendigo, or windigo, is a supernatural being belonging to the spiritual traditions of Algonquian-speaking First Nations, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia. The legend of the windigo existed in Algonquian oral history long before Europeans arrived in North America.

It’s doubtful that Wendigo Creek was known by the same name to Indigenous people, but it’s possible it was locally called this when John Harvie bought surrounding land in the early 1900s.

Wood Street

Wood Street is named after merchant and Upper Canada magistrate Alexander Wood, who lived from 1772 to 1844 and was the centre of a sex scandal in 1810.

Last month, the Church-Wellesley BIA said a statue of Wood, which currently sits in Toronto’s gay village, should be taken down as he is connected to the establishment of residential schools. After going through public library archives, the BIA said Wood was a founding board member of a “society” whose “main focus of work was the raising of funds and the development of ‘Indian Mission Schools.’”

Jarvis Street

Jarvis Street was named after Samuel Jarvis, who was the chief superintendent of Indian Affairs from 1837 to 1845. His father, William Jarvis, was the provincial secretary of Upper Canada. The family kept at least six slaves around the turn of the 19th century.

In 1841, Samuel pitched the Six Nations community on selling their land to the Crown, a move that remains contested to this day. He used their money without their consent, investing in a losing venture.

Samuel left his position “in disgrace” after the money disappeared, and his department was found in chaos by a royal commission.

Wellesley Street

Wellesley Street was named after the first Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley in 1859. Wellesley led the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo.

He was twice the prime minister of the United Kingdom. Wellesley opposed the 1858 Jewish Civil Disabilities Repeal Bill saying, “we do not wish Jews to come settle here,” in an 1833 speech.

Maitland Street

Maitland Street was named after Peregrine Maitland, a lieutenant governor of Upper Canada from 1818 to 1928. It opened in 1870 for development between Church Street and Jarvis Street.

According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, Maitland was continually at the centre of political controversy. He believed democratic and “American tendencies” in Upper Canadian society, the predecessor of modern day Ontario, “had to be resisted to maintain the imperial connection.”

After the war of 1812, Black veterans received grants of land in Oro Township from Maitland. As much of the land in the township was not suitable for agriculture, many were forced to move elsewhere to find employment.

Baby Point Road

The list includes three streets in west Toronto’s Baby Point neighbourhood — Baby Point Road, Baby Point Crescent and Baby Point Terrace. The neighbourhood was named after Jacques “James” Baby, who was a slave owner and Toronto resident. He lived from 1763 to 1833.

Baby was also an original member of the upper house of the Legislative Council of Upper Canada. He was one of six out of the nine original members that were slave owners and/or members of slaveholding families. —Irelyne Lavery

Jennifer Pagliaro is a Toronto-based reporter covering city hall and municipal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @jpags





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