'Pro-slavery politician': Petition calls for Ontario city to change its name
TORONTO -- People are calling for Vaughan, Ont. to change its name after new light has been shed on the person the city was named after.
According to Vaughan’s website, the city was named by Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe in honour of British diplomat Benjamin Vaughan, a co-negotiator of the Peace of Paris treaties and advocate for Canadian interests in the face of proposed amalgamation by the United States.
However, what is not mentioned is that Vaughan also owned several plantations and opposed the emancipation of slaves.
The Jamaican-born politician even went as far as to say that the freeing of slaves could lead to the end of “civilization” on the island, according to the website History of Parliament.
An online petition has been launched to rename the city to “honour the people who made a positive, meaningful impact on our community,” writes campaign creator Lindsay Kemble.
“Our first request is that a new historical hero is recognized for our civic holiday this August 2020, instead of Benjamin Vaughan—a pro-slavery politician. We'd like to see open dialogue and engagement with Vaughan citizens—particularly Black and Indigenous citizens whose lives are directly impacted by this issue—to determine who the new historical figure could be," Kemble wrote on the petition's website.
In December of 2013, Vaughan city council renamed the August civic holiday to “Benjamin Vaughan Day” to acknowledge the “significant impact Benjamin Vaughan had on this community.”
The request to change the name comes at a time when the Black Lives Matter movement continues to grow larger and larger, forcing many cities around the globe to confront their checkered history with anti-Black racism head-on. In fact, several statues in the United Kingdom and the United States of former slave owners have been defaced, beheaded and removed both legally and illegally.
In Toronto, petitions are calling for the renaming of Dundas Street due to the Scottish politician’s involvement in opposing the abolition of slavery in the British Empire in the 18th century.
Similarly, people are calling for the removal of the Egerton Ryerson statue at Ryerson University for the educator’s role in the residential school system.
In a statement issued Monday, Vaughan Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua said that he submitted a resolution to council calling for the civic holiday to be renamed in honour of Simcoe, the first Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada and a leading proponent of the Act Against Slavery.
“I know that the ongoing solidarity against racial injustice continues to be a fundamental priority for all Members of Council. We continue working closely with residents, community organizations, and other government levels to address the issue of anti-Black racism,” Bevilacqua said.
At time of writing, no motion has been put forth asking for the city to change its name. Kemble says she has yet to hear from the city regarding her petition.