Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong made headlines today with his call for Toronto to rename our iconic Union Station after Canada’s first Prime Minister John A. Macdonald.
Minnan-Wong, apparently trying to make some headlines ahead of the next election, has been drowning in a sea of disapproval since his remarks on Tuesday. If you are uneasy about this and not sure why let me remind you of a few things you may or may not have learned in high school that make this an entirely bad idea.
1. We don’t revere John A. Macdonald the same way Americans revere George Washington for a reason: he was a bad person.
John A. Macdonald may be on our tenners but don’t be fooled, his place in the history books is checkered with scandal. For most of us it is simply easier to ignore the fact that he did bad things often in the name of a better Canada than it is to be faced with a Nixonian figure in statues and nameplates. He was known for his gambling, alcoholism, acceptance of bribes, and marrying his own first cousin.
2. Toronto doesn’t need to enshrine itself as the place where addicts and losers are revered as gods.
We’ve got enough of a handful with Rob Ford as it is, do we really need to re-name Union Station after a man who was known as “the whiskey soaked statesman” and had a penchant for arriving at parliamentary debates pissed? Even Ford in all his antics has still refrained from vomiting in chambers, the same cannot be said for Macdonald.
3. His place in the history of the railroad is not exactly a happy story.
Macdonald was implicated in the Pacific Scandal that had him leave the office of Prime Minister in shame and shrouded in controversy as evidence of his government accepting bribes from a private company for lucrative contracts came to light. Although he was later re-elected after Mackenzie King’s time in office the Pacific Scandal is a stain on Canada’s infancy.
4. Union Station is already named for the history of our city.
Denzil Minnan-Wong thinks that because many other cities contain a Union Station we should change the name of ours to be more historical. It already is historical. It (along with the other stations it shares a name with) are named after the cooperation of once competing rail companies coming together to provide seamless and quality service to Torontonians in a beautiful station. While much of Canada’s rail history has disappeared in 2014 the name “Union” still signifies the unity of those now extinct rail giants.
5. If it was going to be renamed pick someone worthwhile.
This particular dead old white straight guy is already on our money. If we, for whatever reason, need to rename Union Station we can pick from any number of fantastic Canadians who haven’t already been immortalized on fliff and represent the mosaic of Canada a bit better. How about Torontonian Anderson Ruffin Abbott, Canada’s first black physician? Maybe 20th century gay Canadian poet Patrick Anderson? What about Toronto’s first female mayor June Rowlands? The list of diverse and representative candidates who are also good people is quite long.