Addressing Our Namesake

The last two weeks have brought to the forefront the racism which still exists in our society and with it an opportunity to talk about some uncomfortable issues. Many of you have heard about Henry Dundas and his links to the slave trade in Britain and have asked us about it. Here’s some information.
Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville, was a Scottish lawyer and politician who was first appointed to British cabinet in 1791 as Secretary of State for the Home Department. He favoured a “gradual” abolition of the slave trade and in 1792, he supported a legislative amendment which delayed the end of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. This action resulted in the enslavement of thousands of people per year for the next 15 years. Dundas was a political associate of John Graves Simcoe. Simcoe in 1793, as the Lieutenant Governor for Upper Canada, commissioned the building of a military road which would connect the Village of Coote’s Paradise with Oxford (now Woodstock). The road was named after Henry Dundas.

At this time, the area that we know as Dundas was still called Coote’s Paradise. In 1804, Richard Hatt built a mill and distillery along the road, calling it Dundas Mills. Mail carriers used the mill as a post office, and people wishing to reach the Village of Coote’s Paradise began to write “Dundas Mills” as the address. The shortened form of “Dundas” quickly came into use. Henry Dundas never visited Canada, yet his legacy has survived in part because so much has been named after him. It is important to recognize the uncomfortable history that is tied to the name and use it as an opportunity for education and change.

We will endeavour to continue research into this and share information as it becomes available.

Additional information

Dates of Note:

1793 – Act to Limit Slavery in Upper Canada – the first legislation in the British colonies to restrict the slave trade. The Act recognized enslavement as a legal and socially accepted institution. It also prohibited the importation of new slaves into Upper Canada and reflected a growing abolitionist sentiment in British North America.

1807 – Abolition of the Slave Trade Act. The Act made it illegal to engage in the slave trade throughout the British Empire, though trafficking between the Caribbean islands continued, regardless, until 1811.

August 1, 1834 – The Slavery Abolition Act came into effect, abolishing slavery in the British Empire, including British North America (now Canada). The Act made enslavement officially illegal in every province and freed the last remaining enslaved people in Canada.

A message from the Board of Directors and Staff of the Dundas Museum

We have been watching, listening, and learning. In Canada we have a history that has too often erased the experiences of Black Canadians. There is much work to be done to uncover and tell these stories. At the Dundas Museum and Archives, we acknowledge that museums are not neutral and must actively engage in this process. To do this, we must collect, preserve and share the stories and lived experiences of Black, Indigenous and people of colour in our community. We do not always get this right and will continue to learn. We commit to building relationships, learning from, and collaborating with people of colour in the telling of their stories. Here at the Dundas Museum, we promise to be a welcoming, accessible, and safe space for everyone. Black lives matter.

The Board of Directors and staff of the Dundas Museum and Archives

Live from the Dundas Museum: Virtual Tour of A Century Ago

Step back 100 years with Exhibitions Coordinator Austin Strutt on this virtual tour of our feature exhibition, A Century Ago: Dundas in the 1920s. It will be streamed via Facebook Live on June 12 at noon.

From the extravagant to the every day, the distinct aesthetic of 1920s along with their enthusiasm for modernization will be discussed.