You'll get used to name changes - Keith Roulston editorial
During World War II, the Canadian song “You’ll Get Used to It” helped build morale at home and among other allied countries. Perhaps the song should be revived to help us get through an era of the cleansing of names from streets, schools,
parks and more that are odious to current standards.
Many thousands will be inconvenienced when Toronto changes the name of Dundas St. to some as yet unchosen name. A few dozen will be forced to take on the extra burden of getting their addresses changed on their driver’s licence, health card, etc. if the name of Gypsy Lane is changed in Blyth.
As no doubt dozens or hundreds of streets, schools, etc. are renamed to fit what is perceived as proper 21st century nomenclature, many people will, I’m sure, resent whatever new name is chosen. That’s where the advice of that song comes in: “You’ll get used to it”.
I’m sure some residents of what was then Wilson St. resented it when the Village of Blyth changed the name to Gypsy Lane in the 1970s. Now that we’re used to it, some people are bitterly opposed to eliminating the name which others point out is now considered a slur on the Romani people.
When I say we’ll get used to the new names, I think back to the excitement I felt when Toronto was awarded an American League baseball team and a National Basketball Association franchise. When the name Blue Jays was chosen for the baseball team, I found it uninspiring. I absolutely hated the name of the Raptors for the basketball team whose first owner was trying the capitalize on the public infatuation with dinosaurs in those post-Jurassic Park days so he could sell more team jerseys.
Yet I got used to those names over the years as the teams built a history, with the Jays winning the World Series in 1992 and 1993 and the Raptors becoming NBA Champions in 2019.
As for name changes, it’s not the first time politically incorrect names have been banished. In 1916, the name Kitchener was chosen for a community that had borne the name Berlin – hardly an acceptable name in a country that was fighting a bitter war with Germany. Given the current mood, however, I wonder if there will soon be pressure to change the name again. After all, Field Marshal Horatio Herbert Kitchener, whose name seemed a patriotic choice at the time (his face was on a famous recruiting poster in Britain) can now be viewed as infamous for colonial victories in the Sudan and South Africa, during the latter of which he imprisoned Boer civilians in concentration camps.
The fact is, these changes are going to happen whether you agree or not. To protest is to invoke the legend of King Canute, forbidding the tide to come in. Only this is a tidal wave.
As with most movements, those pushing this change will sometimes go overboard. If they want to look for offence, it’s hard to see how this purge will ever end, since 75 per cent of the street names, school names, etc. can be found wanting, including every King and Queen St., which is a reminder of colonialism. Even the name Brantford could be deemed inappropriate because Joseph Brant, the admired Mohawk chief for whom the city was named, was an owner of 60 slaves.
Some changes are more appropriate than others. The name Gypsy is a direct slur to the Romani people – although since there were only 5,500 Canadians who claimed Romani ancestry in the most recent census, I suspect few of the people complaining are directly affected, but are offended on behalf of the Romani.
Arguments against street names like Dundas I find a lot more tortured. I guarantee that until this campaign began, 99 per cent of Torontonians didn’t realize they were “celebrating” a now-obscure Scottish politician who prevented earlier passage of efforts to halt the slave trade in Britain. For Torontonians it was just a street that had built its own history over 200 years – sort of like the Blue Jays’ and Raptors’ names.
But truth and reconciliation are not going to be painless. Before old wounds can be healed, the harm caused by governments and ordinary Canadians to many disadvantaged minorities must be faced up to. First and foremost, of course are the Indigenous peoples, but historic injustices have also been done to Blacks, Jews, Japanese, Chinese, Sikhs and other peoples. If proposed name changes actually promote healing and begin the first steps toward reconciliation, then any temporary inconvenience is worth it. We need to get to the point where all peoples, including those diverse in background, are woven tightly into the Canadian tapestry.
But changing offending street names is barely a symbolic beginning. The real challenge will be to each of us to eradicate
the sorts of fear and resentment that lead to racism. We’re all, no matter what origin or skin colour, Canadians together – and the stronger for it.