Renaming Dundas Street

Renaming Dundas Street

To celebrate our move to the West Toronto Junction THA has worked with Sarah King Head, CAHP (writer and historian), Kamila Hakimova (website design) and Vik Pahwa (photographer) to provide a series of accounts of the place that we will soon call home.

A Bit of Local History in the Context of De-Colonizing a Highway Name

 

Given our imminent move to 2928 Dundas Street West, we at Taylor Hazell Architects feel it appropriate to consider and support Toronto City Council’s recent decision to rename the street and other civic assets that bear the name of Henry Dundas (1642–1811), a Scottish politician who never stepped foot in Canada but whose infamy will always be linked to a refusal to support the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire. 

‘King Harry the Ninth’ earned posthumous honours when the original Governor’s Road was renamed Dundas Street shortly before the outbreak of highly anticipated war with the American colonies in 1812. 

Unlike the ancient Indigenous trails that were fortuitously repurposed by European settlers and soldiers, Dundas along with Yonge and Danforth streets were surveyed in the final years of the eighteenth century to be major military arteries. Radiating out from the capital of Upper Canada at York their design was part of coordinated colonial strategies and policies: to establish manageable axes of control over the area north of Lake Ontario in order to guarantee British access to the full Great Lakes system and thus retention of its North American foothold. 

Detail of Lt-Col. W.F.D. Jervois’ ‘Toronto, Canada West, Shewing Existing & Proposed Defences’, 1865: http://oldtorontomaps.blogspot.com/2014/01/1865-jervois-toronto-canada-west.html

And, key to this strategy was the need to exert territorial dominance over Indigenous lands. 

The plaque erected by the Junction’s BIA at the corner of Pacific Avenue and Dundas West in 2014 acknowledges this debt by placing the creation of the Dundas Highway specifically within an Indigenous historical context: 

The area known as The Junction lies along an ancient Indigenous Peoples’ trade route that followed the shoreline of what was once Lake Iroquois from modern-day Detroit to Montreal. In 1817, Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe built the Dundas Highway as a military road, to connect York, now Toronto, to the western end of Lake Ontario at Dundas [Cootes Paradise], now part of Hamilton. The earliest businesses in the area were taverns catering to merchants travelling along this route.

Plaque at Dundas and Pacific

Many of the tide of settlers and soldiers who arrived in Upper Canada in the wake of the American Revolution would have travelled by trail from Niagara before setting foot on the Dundas Highway; and those who ventured into the area that would become the Junction would also have made use of the principal north–south route that ran along the Humber River.

The so-called ‘Toronto Carrying Place’ – or passage – followed a 45-km stretch of the higher east shore of the Humber River that linked Lake Ontario with the Holland River at Lake Simcoe. More than just the primary north–south route used by settlers for Great Lakes traffic, it was one of North America’s longest continuous trails, forming part of an important network of communications and trade that had crisscrossed the continent for tens of thousands of years, arteries that were heavily used long before becoming useful in the development of European commercial and settlement infrastructures. It was considered the primary north–south route for Great Lakes traffic.

C.W. Jeffreys ‘Toronto Carrying Place, 1619–1793,’ in Percy J. Robinson, Toronto During the French Regime (Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1933).

Today from its mid-block storefront, THA is surrounded by the works of other internationally acclaimed and homegrown architects (from John M. Lyle and Darling & Pearson to Ellis & Connery) giving rise to a late nineteenth and early twentieth century block of largely untouched store fronts and networks of laneway housing.

Original plan of the Toronto Purchase from the Indians, 1787-1805 TPL
“Original plan of the Toronto Purchase from the Indians, 1787–1805” TPL, https://digitalarchive.tpl.ca/objects/329379

Within a mere 250 years, part of what was once associated with the Humber Plains (east of the Humber River, south of Black Creek) has become the Junction. 

Initially change came slowly: for nearly a century, much of this ancient landscape was domain to agricultural estates managed by landowners like John Scarlett and Colonel E.W. Thomson. The convergence of five railway lines at the eponymous Junction from the middle of the nineteenth century ensured the area would forever be changed – more than just inevitable, the incentive for residential subdivisions and industrial development was inescapable. 

Detail of George R. Tremaine’s Map of the County of York, Canada West (Toronto, 1860)

Notwithstanding, a skeleton of the ancient landscapes and land-use infrastructures does remain, albeit repurposed and renamed, throughout the Junction. 


Sources:

Bonikowsky, L.N. Yonge Street – Governor Simcoe’s Military Road. Canadian Encyclopedia. 2012; rev. 2015: https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/yonge-street-governor-simcoes-military-road-feature

Common Bond Collective. West Toronto Junction Historic Context Statement. 2020 (courtesy of the City of Toronto).

Turner, G. The Toronto Carrying Place: Rediscovering Toronto’s Most Ancient Trail. Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2015.

A full text of the Junction BIA’s plaque can be found at https://www.readtheplaque.com/plaque/the-junction-bia and for more information about the BIA, go to https://www.toronto-bia.com/find-a-bia/bias/junction/

Regarding the City of Toronto’s decision to rename Dundas Street and other civic assets bearing the name, see: https://www.toronto.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/8df4-Recognition-Review-reading-list-January2021.pdf