Commemoration is an intentional act of acknowledging the memory of people, places, events and ideas. It can include positive and honorific celebrations of the past and present, as well as the tragic, controversial and shameful dimensions of history and culture. Public commemorations – including the naming of streets, parks and other civic properties, and representation in monuments and plaques – reflect community values by how we choose to collectively honour the past and shape the future.
The City of Toronto communicates a core value through its motto, “Diversity Our Strength.” In keeping with this motto, it’s important that we strive to create public spaces that are welcoming and inclusive for all. To help achieve this vision, City Council adopted a new framework to guide how the City commemorates public figures and events in place names and other civic assets. The new commemorative framework includes updated guidelines for naming and renaming streets and city properties, and commissioning new and reviewing existing historic monuments.
Guiding Principles for Commemoration
The City of Toronto’s Guiding Principles for Commemoration encourage greater equity and inclusion in placemaking, and promote a broader understanding of history and its legacy on communities. Learn more about the Guiding Principles for Commemoration.
The first three Guiding Principles relate to process. Principles #1 and 2 outline core requirements that must be demonstrated in order to proceed with a proposal for a commemorative street name, property name, or monument, while Principle #3 applies as a requirement for Indigenous commemorations. The remaining three Guiding Principles relate to the desired outcomes of the framework.
- Be informed by historical research, traditional knowledge, and community insights: Proposals for commemorative street names, property names, or monuments must be grounded in sound historical and/or community-based research that is carefully and ethically undertaken. Research should consider a range of primary and secondary sources, including peer-reviewed historical research where possible. Proposals could also be based on oral histories and traditional knowledge to provide for an authentic, local account of Toronto’s history, and reflect community stories that may not be documented in other historical sources.
- Be supported by communities through meaningful engagement: Proposals for commemorations must include evidence of demonstrated community support, taking into account the broad range of voices, perspectives, and experiences of local residents and impacted communities. Evidence of community support could include letters of support, petitions, or feedback from in-person or virtual community meetings.
- Honour Indigenous ways of knowing and being: This principle will guide how subjects of significance to Indigenous Peoples are commemorated in public spaces. Through this principle, the City commits to the meaningful co-creation of Indigenous commemorations with Indigenous rights-holders, Elders, knowledge holders, language carriers, and community members; and honouring traditional Indigenous practices and protocols as part of the process – for example, by inviting Elders to walk the land and to offer ceremony.
- Prioritize commemorations significant to Indigenous Peoples, Black communities, and equity-deserving groups: Like in many North American cities, most commemorations in Toronto have celebrated the city’s colonial history. This principle seeks to address the historic imbalance of who or what has been recognized in the City’s public spaces by prioritizing proposed commemorations that share the stories of underrepresented groups in new commemorations. This includes recognizing the contributions of Indigenous Peoples, Black communities, and equity-deserving groups, such as racialized people including Asian and South Asian communities; 2SLGBTQ+ community members; immigrants, refugees, undocumented individuals; women; youth; people with low incomes; and persons with disabilities.
- Connect to Toronto, Ontario or Canada’s histories and cultures: The subjects of proposed commemorative street names, property names, and/or monuments must have a clear connection to Toronto, Ontario or Canada’s histories and cultures.
- Share knowledge and stories behind commemorations: When something is being commemorated, it is important to tell the story of why. To help engage residents in conversation about our shared history, new commemorations will include an educational component wherever possible. This could include signage and plaques, QR codes, digital resources, community dialogues, or interactive events.
Criteria for the Review of Historic Street or Place Names and Monuments
City Council has adopted criteria to respond to future requests to review monuments, street names, and property names based on questions about their historical legacy. Requests to review monuments, street names, or property names could be considered if the name or monument:
- Refers to current or historic persons known for their discriminatory views and actions, including committing or perpetuating acts of racism or violence against Indigenous Peoples, Black communities, and/or equity-deserving groups;
- Includes derogatory terms or imagery that might represent or be linked with discriminatory views and actions;
- Negatively represents or appropriates the culture of Indigenous Peoples, Black communities, and/or equity-deserving groups;
- Is inconsistent with City By-laws or Policies including the City of Toronto Human Rights and Anti-Harassment / Discrimination Policy; and/or
- Brings the City of Toronto into disrepute.
In keeping with City Council’s decision, an application process will be introduced to allow members of the public to request a review of a street name, place name or monument. This application will open as of November 1, 2022.
Moratorium on the Naming and Renaming of Streets and Civic Properties
City Council previously implemented a moratorium on the naming and renaming of streets and civic properties while the new commemorative framework was under development. Council has directed that this moratorium be lifted and that new applications be accepted as of November 1, 2022. Updated guidelines and application forms will be made available on the City’s website at that time.