Toronto City Council approves renaming Yonge-Dundas Square to Sankofa Square

Toronto’s Yonge-Dundas Square will officially be renamed Sankofa Square. On Thursday, Toronto city councillors voted 17-6 in favour of proceeding with the plan to rename Yonge-Dundas Square, despite a meeting earlier this month where critics urged council to reverse course on their decision, and a petition with 30,000+ signatures against the renaming.

 

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City Council adopted the motion, which includes the following measures:

  • Replace all references to Yonge-Dundas Square with Sankofa Square.
  • Replace all references to the Yonge-Dundas Square Board of Management with the Sankofa Square Board of Management.
  • For the Sankofa Square Board of Management to develop a multi-year strategic and business plan to rebrand the square.

The cost of renaming the Square could be $600,000 more than originally expected, according to a May 21 letter by City Manager Paul Johnson.

“The cost to decommission current onsite signage was $7,910. No other costs have been incurred to date. The Square estimates that the design, fabrication, and installation of new signage will cost in the range of $105,000 to $200,000,” Johnson wrote.

He added that additional potential costs associated with the renaming include branding, programming, as well as diversity, equity, and inclusion (such as investments to help confront anti-Black racism and support reconciliation).

“These elements are estimated to cost between $300,000 and $600,000 and may be scaled back based on the availability of funding raised by the Square through financial partners and in-kind support,” the letter states.

It was in December when Toronto City Council adopted a motion to change the name of Yonge-Dundas Square to Sankofa Square.  The motion was inspired by an online petition launched in the summer of 2020, urging Council to rename the street due to Henry Dundas’ active participation “in obstructing the abolition of slavery in the British Empire” from 1791 to the end of his political career in 1806.  To date, that petition has 14,800+ signatures.

“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. Names such as that of Henry Dundas,” the petition states.

According to the Yonge-Dundas Square (YDS) team, “Sankofa” (SAHN-koh-fah) was the result of two years of work by the City’s 20-member Recognition Review Community Advisory Committee, consisting of Black and Indigenous leaders, along with other diverse residents and business owners living and working along Dundas Street.

Sankofa is a “Twi” word from the Akan Tribe of Ghana that loosely translates to, “go back and get it.”

It comes from the Akan proverb, “Se wo were fi na wosan kofa a yenkyiri,” which translates to “It is not taboo to go back for what you forgot (or left behind).”

“While Sankofa originates from the Ghanaian Akan language, it broadly resonates across African and Black communities globally as an expression of cultural and political affirmation,” the YDS team stated on their website.

At Thursday’s Council meeting, Councillor Amber Morley (Etobicoke-Lakeshore) reportedly said that the City needs to move forward with the renaming, noting that “Black people are Canadians too, Black people pay taxpayer dollars too, so God forbid we put a couple of dollars towards a truth and reconciliation to hold space for community members who have long been disregarded and discarded in violent and traumatic ways”.

Councillor Stephen Holyday (Ward 2 – Etobicoke Centre) tried to stop the formal renaming plans from moving forward, stating that funds used toward this endeavor could be used for other initiatives.

“The square isn’t going to be any fresher smelling, or look any better, or sound any better, or be a more attractive place for visitors,” Holyday said, as reported by City News.

According to the Yonge-Dundas Square Renaming Initiative report, the costs to fund the renaming will come from Section 37 funds (community benefits charge) and not from the City budget.

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