News / Toronto

City council studies feasibility of renaming Scarborough park after Viola Desmond

Desmond is celebrated for openly challenging segregation in Canada. Councillor Neethan Shan says the naming of parks should be more reflective of the city's diversity.

Viola Desmond will be featured on a new $10 bank note expected in late 2018. A Scarborough park could soon be named after her.

Torstar News Service File

Viola Desmond will be featured on a new $10 bank note expected in late 2018. A Scarborough park could soon be named after her.

Toronto is considering naming a Scarborough park after Viola Desmond, a Black woman who openly challenged segregation in Canada.

Council voted last week to study the feasibility of changing the name of Hupfield Park in Malvern. The move would go a long way toward correcting a problem with Toronto's public spaces, said Coun. Neethan Shan.

"The names of our parks, our streets, our schools do not reflect the diversity of our city," he said, noting such decisions are made by people in power, where racialized people are not highly represented.

"A lot of racialized communities are still fighting for equality in employment, education and health care, but it's important also to advocate for this type of recognition and change the status quo."

Desmond was a successful Black businesswoman from Nova Scotia whose fight against discrimination inspired the civil-rights movement in Canada. In 1946 she refused to leave the main floor of a theatre that was reserved for white people only, and police dragged her out and put her in jail.

She would unsuccessfully challenge authorities over that discrimination, taking her case all the way to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia — the first such case by a Black woman in Canada. Courts pardoned her more than 60 years later.

Desmond's face will appear on the new $10 bill, to be issued in 2018.

A city spokesperson told Metro there's no database displaying how many public spaces or utilities are named after individuals, but advocates have little doubts about the lack of representation for people of colour and women.

"As a society, we have privileged white men over pretty much anyone else," said Rosemary Sadlier, former president of the Ontario Black History Society. In 2016 she was instrumental in efforts that led the city to name a park in the Danforth area after William Peyton Hubbard, the first Black person to serve on city council.

Sadlier said many people from visible minority groups have made significant contributions to the development of Toronto and Canada, but their history continues to be "invisible."

"We have no formal requirement for people to learn Black history in schools," she said, expressing hope that recognizing people like Desmond will inspire younger generations.

"It adds to the whole story of who is Canadian and who has done what for the city and the country."

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