End in sight for Henry Dundas legacy as Canada condemns slave trade links
Officials in Canada’s biggest city have concluded that Henry Dundas helped perpetuate the slave trade, adding weight to a growing campaign to banish the name of the Scottish politician from its streets.
A review of Dundas’s legacy by authorities in Toronto, aimed at better understanding how commemorations of the Scot impact on the city’s black and indigenous communities, ruled that his actions paved the way for the enslavement and trafficking across the Atlantic of more than half a million Africans.
In Edinburgh, the council has put in place a permanent interpretative plaque at the Melville Monument in St Andrew Square so as to explain Dundas's role in delaying abolition at the Melville Monument, an issue which has come under fierce scrutiny in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Toronto, like other cities around the world, is wrestling with how best to reassess civic tributes to those who had connections with the slave trade. One of its most prominent thoroughfares is named after Dundas.
A petition campaign to rename the street has already attracted upwards of 14,500 signatories. While a decision is not expected to be made until next month, the outcome of the official assessment of Dundas’s deeds will provide impetus for those demanding the city’s fathers disavow their historic associations with a man who was a trusted lieutenant of British prime minister William Pitt.
The three-page ‘recognition review’ draws on research by academics including the University of Glasgow’s Dr Stephen Mullen, who has said there is unequivocal evidence to show Dundas delayed abolition for vested interests.
Some of Dundas’s supporters have framed his decision to secure an amendment for a 1792 bill bought by William Wilberforce, so as to ensure abolition was gradual, as an act of compromise.
However, the Toronto report makes clear that in the aftermath of the parliamentary debate, Dundas demonstrated a clear opposition to abolition, and repeatedly opposed a series of subsequent bills over the following years.
The report states: “Whatever the motivation behind his amendment may have been, the consequences of Dundas's actions are clear. Whether he is viewed cynically or as a pragmatist, his actions and those of the British government he served contributed to the perpetuation of the enslavement of human beings.
“Though Dundas's amendment was adopted and a date for abolition was proposed for 1796, the bill was never enacted by the House of Lords. It would be 1807 before the Slave Trade Act was finally passed.”
It adds: “During this time, more than half a million Africans were enslaved and trafficked across the Atlantic, many to British colonies.”
Andrew Lochhead, who started the campaign to rename Dundas Street in Toronto, said Dundas and other likes him actively worked toward “preserving systems of racial inequality and exploitation.”
He said: “If we truly wish for our public street names and monuments to reflect our values and priorities we must consider engaging the public in the process of excising those names which are no longer worthy of our honour or respect.”
On Sunday, a statue erected in honour of Egerton Ryerson, one of the architects of Canada’s controversial residential school system, was toppled at Ryerson University in Toronto at a protest over the recent discovery of a mass grave of indigenous children at a school.