Recent examinations of the county’s namesake, Henry Dundas showed he was involved in adding provisions to delay legislation in Great Britain to eliminate slavery. Slavery ended in the British Empire in 1833.
“Henry Dundas was not a good man. He fought for slavery to continue, successfully postponing the abolition of slavery for 15 years,” said petition author and Cornwall resident Virginia Dipierro.
“Aside from his Scottish Heritage, he is in no way representative of the people of Ontario. He was a corrupt, wealthy politician, impeached and actively participated in the pro-slavery movement.”
Dundas County was created in 1792 by Lt. John Graves Simcoe, who was the first lieutenant governor of Upper Canada. Simcoe named the county after Dundas, who was a friend.
So far, the petition has just under 200 digital signatures.
South Dundas mayor Steven Byvelds said he understands the issues with the legacy of the county’s namesake.
“There’s no doubt his actions were wrong,” he told The Leader. “Unfortunately we can’t change what happened, but we can learn from it.”
Byvelds said that the naming of the county took place over 200 years ago and that the county in 2020 doesn’t reflect the person it was named after in 1792.
He added that the benefit of a petition like Dipierro’s is that it gets people to talk about racism.
“We have to have the discussion about this, and we have to deal with what comes of it,” Byvelds said. “Racism has no place here or elsewhere.”
For the author of the petition, increasing the dialogue about the person Dundas County is named for is not her end goal.
Dipierro wants the Dundas name removed.
“There are many other Ontarians who are much more worthy of naming a place after,” Dipierro told The Leader. “[Dundas] was a deeply supportive person for slavery. He worked with pro-slavery groups.”
Dipierro said that she has been in contact with the Ontario Black History Society and will keep pushing for the Dundas name change.
“I would like to see this addressed by municipal councils and make some gesture to fix this,” she said. “This isn’t about erasing history, its about how a corrupt name is attached to a beautiful place.”
Dipierro added that if change does not happen now, she believes it will in the future.
“It may not happen today, but I do believe our children and grandchildren will look at the name and change it.”