Monthly Archives: February 2014

Moving beyond dead white men

This week Toronto councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong suggested Union Station should be renamed John A. Macdonald Station after Canada’s first prime minister. There has been some moderate debate around the proposal, but no real controversy because it’s basically the most boring suggestion ever. If you were going to ask a Canadian to name a national historic figure John A. Macdonald would definitely be one of the top five answers.

Macdonald has an airport, a bridge, a couple buildings and quite a few schools named after him already, not to mention probably dozens of statues scattered across the country. Oh, and he’s on the ten dollar bill. As far as honouring the first prime minister, I think we’re set. In fact, the only woman on any Canadian money is the Queen of England – all the rest are dead white men.

It stands out to me especially coming from New Zealand, where the people on our notes include Edmund Hillary (first to climb Mt Everest), Apirana Ngata (one of the first Maori politicians), Kate Sheppard (lead the suffragette movement) and Ernest Rutherford (split the atom) – representing a range of different groups and movements. It seems really strange to me that the people Canada thinks are most important in its history are those that represent the establishment, not those that inspired change or lead movements.

So, here is my suggestion: let’s rename Union Station as Mary Ann Shadd Station (or Shadd-Cary Station maybe). Mary Ann Shadd was a black Canadian-American journalist, activist and lawyer. She ran a newspaper, helped escaped slaves find jobs and homes, and was also later a suffragette. She represents Toronto’s diverse history of welcoming people from anywhere and everywhere, and I can’t think of a better name to put on one of the country’s main transportation hubs.

I’m not an expert. Maybe Shadd isn’t suitable for two dozen reasons. But let’s have thatĀ conversation. Who would you name Union Station after? Which Canadians deserve more attention? Do we really think Dead White Men alone made this country what it is? Because that’s the only conclusion I can draw looking around at the names we put on buildings.

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