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 acknowledgements of tragic, controversial and shameful dimensions of history and culture. Public commemorations – such as the naming of streets and properties, and representation in monuments and plaques – are one way that communities demonstrate what they believe is important to remember.
Toronto is one of the most diverse cities in the world, which is reflected in the City of Toronto’s motto, “Diversity, Our Strength.” The City is committed to advancing reconciliation, confronting anti-Black racism and encouraging greater equity and inclusion in our public spaces. In July 2022, City Council approved a new Commemorative Framework – under item EX34.6 – to prioritize commemorations in public spaces significant to Indigenous Peoples, Black communities, and equity-deserving groups. The community-centred approach addresses who and what is recognized, commemorated or honoured through City street names, monuments and property names (such as civic building names or park names).
The Commemorative Framework consists of the City of Toronto’s:
- Street Naming Policy
- Public Art and Monuments Donation Policy
- Property Naming Policy
- Guiding Principles for Commemoration
The Commemorative Framework was informed by lessons from other cities around the world and engagement with close to 12,000 residents through a virtual town hall and panel discussion, public surveys, a travelling interactive exhibit that was part of ArtworxTO and community dialogues with Indigenous rights-holders, urban Indigenous community members, Black community members and equity-deserving groups.
A moratorium was placed on naming or renaming while this work was being done. As of November 1, 2022, the City is accepting new proposals to commemoratively name or rename streets and City properties. Proposals must align with the six Guiding Principles for Commemoration. The City also accepts requests to review existing commemorative street names, property names and monuments that may be considered problematic.
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.
Proposals to commemoratively name or rename a street or City Property must demonstrate how they meet the City’s Guiding Principles for Commemoration. The six guiding principles for commemoration are:
- 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 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 migrants; 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.
Note: Indigenous Peoples, include:
- First Nations
Black communities, include:
Equity-deserving groups, include:
- Racialized people (e.g., East Asian, South Asian, Southeast Asian, West Asian, Indo-Caribbean, Arab, Middle Eastern, Latin American)
- Newcomers (e.g., immigrants and refugees who have recently arrived in Toronto, refugee claimants, temporary residents, and undocumented persons)
- Persons with disabilities
- Two-Spirit, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer+ communities
- Persons with low income
Submit a Proposal for a Commemorative Street or Property Name
For information on how to submit a proposal for a commemorative street name:
For information on how to submit a proposal for a commemorative property name:
Request a Review of an Existing Commemorative Street Name, Property Name or Monument
Existing street names, property names and monuments on City property may warrant reinterpretation, recontextualization, or removal if they:
- Refer to current or historic persons known for their discriminatory views and actions, including committing or perpetuating acts of racism or violence against Indigenous Peoples and Black communities, and/or equity-deserving groups;
- Include derogatory terms that might represent or be linked with discriminatory views and actions;
- Negatively represent or appropriate the culture of Indigenous Peoples, Black communities, and/or equity-deserving groups;
- Are inconsistent with City By-laws or policies including the City of Toronto Human Rights and Anti-Harassment / Discrimination Policy;
- Bring the City of Toronto into disrepute.
Reviews can be requested by submitting a Request to Review Form. Requests must explain and provide necessary documents to demonstrate that the name or monument meets one of the five conditions listed above.
Resources for Researching
Toronto Public Library
Toronto Public Library (TPL) is the largest public library system in Canada. TPL provides free access cards for residents of Toronto.
Local History and Genealogy
TPL has a comprehensive Local History and Genealogy page with links to online tools, research guides, books and local history collections. For in-person help, you can visit a library branch with a local history collection or schedule an appointment through TPL’s Book a Librarian service.
Resources are available through TPL’s A-Z List of Databases and provide:
Online access to:
- Digital Archive – more than 175,933 items, including photographs, maps, digitized books and much more
- Toronto Star Historical Newspaper Archives – searchable articles and full-page reproductions from 1894 to 2019
- Globe and Mail Historical Newspaper Archive – searchable articles and full-page reproductions from 1844 to 2018
- JSTOR – an archive of articles from scholarly journals and primary sources for arts, sciences, social sciences and humanities
- Canadiana Online – a digitized collection of books, government publications, periodicals, annuals and newspapers about Canada published from the time of European contact to the early 20th century
In-library access to:
- Ancestry Library Edition – a genealogy resource especially for U.S. and Canadian records, including census, birth, marriage, death, immigration, military records and more
Marilyn & Charles Baillie Special Collections Centre
Marilyn & Charles Baillie Special Collections Centre is located at the Toronto Reference Library. It provides access to the Baldwin Collection of Canadiana, a large collection of historical manuscripts, books, newspapers, maps and documentary art. Includes more than a million Toronto Star photos.
The finding aid for manuscripts is available at Manuscript Finding Aid online resource.
City of Toronto Archives
At the City of Toronto Archives, you can find historical records (information), including:
- records created by the City of Toronto government
- records created by municipal governments that existed before the 1998 amalgamation
- papers of people, families, organizations and businesses
- maps, plans and architectural drawings
Visit the Using the Archives page for help accessing the Archives’ database for records and information.
Internet Archive is a non-profit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music, websites and more.
The Canadian Encyclopedia
The Canadian Encyclopedia is a collection of articles, lists, timelines and more about topics in Canadian history.
Dictionary of Canadian Biography
Dictionary of Canadian Biography is a collection of over 8,400 biographies covering the period from year 1000 to 2000.