racist name changes

Towns and places in Canada are revisiting their racist names

Calls to purge Canada of many racist reminders are growing stronger, and several towns and places with problematic names are taking a serious look at what they can do about it.

Three Ontario townships, Vaughan, Russell and Kitchener, are each taking steps to address the racism inherent in the namesakes.

A petition circulating asks for the City of Vaughan to be "decolonized" and renamed.

"The City of Vaughan was named after Benjamin Vaughan, a well-known politician and enslaver," it says.

"Benjamin Vaughan was a racialist that viewed Black bodies as chattel, or property, that could be owned, and that type of hatred has no place in our community."

Similarly, Russell, named after Peter Russell, an 18th-century government official who delayed the abolition of slavery is exploring the best course of action for possibly changing its name

Kitchener is also revisiting the idea of changing its name.

It's named after Horatio Herbert Kitchener, a British general who fought the Indigenous forces of Africa, India and other places in the name of the British Empire.

What many may not know is how deeply these racist namesakes range in Canada, far beyond glorifying military heroes, with many places steeped in troubling appellatives.

In 2018, Researcher Bashir Mohamed compiled data from various geographical sites in Canada with racist names, many of which still exist today.

"When I was looking into John Ware, a famous cowboy and Black Albertan, I noticed that a ridge was named after him that was called "[expletive] John ridge." This made me question - are there other sites in Canada with similar names?" he wrote.

"This lead me to the Canadian Geographical name database where I put in some racial slurs and ended up with a couple dozen results - some official and some historic."

He discovered that many places across the country incorporate racial slurs into their names.

"The most important thing to understand is that Canada has an extensive anti-Black history that is relatively unknown to most Canadians," he continues.

"For example, Canada practiced slavery for more than 200 years, segregation was common, along with race riots targeting Black communities."

"Understanding this history allows us to understand the ways White Canadians viewed and continue to view Black people."

Several of the most troubling have been rescinded, according to the database, thanks to advocate groups like the New Brunswick Black History Society and PRUDE which have helped to change multiple places with racist names.

Likewise, Toronto has begun looking into the possibility of renaming Dundas Street, one of the city's main arteries that travels through several Ontario townships and is also the name of a town.

Across Canada, calls to remove statues continue to grow as more people seek to confront reminders of Canada's racist past in response to widespread anti-Black racism protests across the country and around the world.

Lead photo by Explore Waterloo Region

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