Sir John A. Station?

Yes, we must be into the mayoral campaign, even among undeclared candidates.

At today’s meeting of Toronto’s Executive Committee, Councillor and sometimes-mooted candidate for the Mayor’s office, Denzil Minnan-Wong (better known as DMW to the blogging community) walked a proposal into the meeting to rename Union Station as Sir John A. Macdonald Station.  It’s a slow news day, and this is the sort of thing we see at City Hall when the Ford Family hasn’t triggered any new scandals.

Never mind that this is a National Historic Site.  If someone wants publicity, why not pick a great big monument and propose a new name for it?

Don’t ya know that old Sir John A., our first Prime Minister, is coming up on his 200th birthday, and what better excuse to rename the station after that master of the Canadian Pacific (despite the fact the railway was built long, long before the current Union Station even existed).

It seems there is a group called the Toronto Friends of Sir John A. Macdonald who, along with “appropriate groups and individuals”, are to be consulted in the preparation of a report on the subject that will be back at Exec by July 2 at the latest.  This group even has a website with one rather trivial post that is over a year old.

According to The Star:

Supporters include Alan Broadbent of the Maytree Foundation, broadcaster Steve Paikin and journalist Richard Gwyn.

They should be ashamed.  Just because “Union Station” seems rather prosaic does not mean the name is without significance in Toronto.

No doubt, part of the impetus for naming anything in Toronto after Sir John A. might be his reputation for drinking gin (conveniently disguised as a glass of water) in the House.  A role model for our current Mayor, no doubt.

Poor DMW is doomed to be one of the also-rans in the mayoralty race, presuming he even puts himself on the ballot.  The things people do to get attention.  At least he has not changed his mind on transit funding and jumped on the subway bandwagon, yet.

This proposal is a waste of time for staff and Council who have far more important things to consider.

Leave Union Station alone!

25 thoughts on “Sir John A. Station?

  1. OK… name Dundas Square for MacDonald… Dundas had no direct connection with Toronto and the name is not important except that of a town and the road that lead to it.


  2. Renaming the Ottawa River Parkway is confusing enough.

    Steve: For the benefit of readers, the road in question was renamed after Sir John in 2012.

    Of course, we also have the Macdonald-Cartier Freeway which is nowhere near Union Station.


  3. I agree — don’t rename Union Station. However, there have been proposals to develop secondary stations located east and or west of Union to increase capacity into the downtown core (and relieve congestion at Union). Sir John could certainly put his name on one of those.


  4. DMW is an idiot … a first class idiot. It’s Union Station plain and simple. It’s a part of our history and changing its name is the biggest waste of money yet.

    Some of the most important events in Toronto’s history happened at Union … troop trains arriving after WW2, lineups after 9/11 for people to get home … even a deranged gunman in rush hour.

    The fact is changing its name is stupid and may have cost DMW his re-election.

    May as well call City Hall the William Lyon Mackenzie legislative building if you’re going to rename Union.


  5. Sir John A. MacDonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister, was elected MP for Kingston. Shouldn’t Kingston get first rights to the name, John A. MacDonald Station?

    Correction. Kingston’s train station currently in use by VIA, should be named the Sir John A. MacDonald Station. The one out in the sticks of Kingston near the 401. Unless you actually seen the Kingston train station currently in use, of course. Its not really that grand.


  6. Naming airports after people is bad enough, but sticking triple-barrelled names onto railway stations is just ridiculous.


  7. Upon sober second thought, I am wondering if there are some people who do not like the name “Union Station” because they believe that the “Union” part has something to do with labour unions.

    There are many train stations with the name of “Union Station.” For example in Chicago and Washington, DC. What it refers to is a station that is used by (or unites) two or more railways. Nothing whatsoever to do with labour unions.


  8. What have these people got against unions?

    Brilliant idea: rename the old CPR station at Summerhill after him. Is the LCBO still the prime tenant?

    Steve: Yes!


  9. Why not name something more appropriate for him.

    Like the new St. Lawrence North Market building. Given it has St. Lawrence Hall (where Sir John A. spoke occasionally) to the north, and St. Lawrence South Market to the … uh … south, it’s a building that might actually benefit from a name change!

    And if that doesn’t work, perhaps they could name an LCBO after him or something 🙂


  10. I agree with not changing the name of Union Station. However, at least he is proposing the name of a very important person in the development of Canada and an ‘old school’ Conservative. The Conservatives in this country could learn a lot of good things from men like Sir John A.


  11. Although DMW’s plan is to rename it after our first prime minster, there is a McDonalds in the station, I can easily picture tourists coming here and assuming that we named it after the burger joint. Hey, free corporate advertising!


  12. “Union station”, meaning a station where multiple railways meet, is also used in Indianapolis, Hartford, St. Louis, Washington, Chicago, Kansas City, Denver, and Dallas. So what significance does this have to Toronto?

    Moreover your note that “the [CPR] was built long, long before the current Union Station even existed” is somewhat disingenuous, since the CPR began using one of the current station’s predecessors (also called Union) almost from its beginnings.

    The CPR is the railway that linked this country “from sea to shining sea”. Without it, BC may well have joined the United States, and our Canada may have become an Eastern rump. It would be completely appropriate, and very Canadian, to rename Union Station in recognition of the seminal importance of the CPR. Far moreso than leaving it with a generic name that reads like an American castoff.

    If it was up to me, I’d rename it not after Sir John A, but after Sir Sandford Fleming, the CPR’s first chief engineer and an architect of both eastern and western railways.

    Steve: The point is not whether the many stations are called “Union” or “Central” or “Hauptbahnhof”, but that they have existed and are widely known and referenced by that name. You might send suggestions to all those other “Union Station” cities that they should rename theirs so that ours can be pre-eminent.

    “Union” is only an “American castoff” because that’s your frame of reference.

    While we’re on the subject, there are far too many “King” and “Queen” streets, and we really must do something about that. Unfortunately, Ford St. is already taken by an obscure, one-block road near Keele and St. Clair which, many years ago, had a streetcar barn on it.

    This whole proposal smacks of political opportunism for one Councillor, and it has already been overshadowed by today’s report about the Gardiner Expressway (on which the same Councillor is quite vocal, if misguided).


  13. There was an article recently, in the Star I believe, about Sir John A being a racist pig, especially towards the Chinese with high head tax on Chinese immigrants. I don’t know DMW’s ethnic background but I would surmise that there is some east Asian in there somewhere, so why does he want to rename Union Station after a racist pig? Sorry about that but I could not resist temptation. The devil made me do it.

    While Union Station is not a name unique to Toronto I can see no reason to change it. However I can see the rationale in naming an LCBO or a building in the Distillery District after him.

    Steve: The National Post has a brand new article about this issue.


  14. Andrew wrote:

    “The CPR is the railway that linked this country ‘from sea to shining sea’”.

    Kevin’s comment:

    At the risk of being called a fussy nitpicker, I will point out that this is a quotation from “America the Beautiful.” The Canadian equivalent is our official motto “A Mari usque ad Mare” (From sea to sea). This is from Psalm 72, “His Dominion shall be from Sea to Sea and from the River to the End of the Earth.”

    With the River being the St. Lawrence, this is a fairly good aspirational description of the new Dominion of Canada in 1867.

    See Canadian Heritage site.


  15. If “Don’t Run” DMW wants to name something after Sir John, why not pick something in his own ward? I’m sure he’d love to explain to his Chinese constituents why he wants to honour one racist drunkard whilst he’s been running as far as he can away from another the last six months.


  16. If they go ahead with renaming the train station, will the adjoining subway station and bus terminal need an adjustment as well? Would the TTC abbreviate it to just MacDonald, seeing as they seem to shy away from overly long station names (see the Spadina Line extension).


  17. @TorontoStreetcars:

    The Conservatives in this country could learn a lot of good things from men like Sir John A.

    Like how to be a anti-Asian bigot who passed a race exclusion law forbidding Chinese to emigrate to Canada? Or how to persecute First Nations peoples?

    Based on those things that he did, I think that we should keep the name of Union Station as it is.


  18. Not to excuse Sir John A and the anti-Chinese immigration measures which his government passed, but please keep in mind that he was Prime Minister in the 19th century, not the 21st. You would have found many, many people back then who held views similar to those of Sir John A — in fact, he probably didn’t lead public opinion on the question of Chinese immigration, but followed it. Those views are no longer in the mainstream, and good riddance to them, I say. But please do not distort history by making it sound as though Sir John A himself was a racist in a way that no one else in 19th-century Canada was. Like everyone else, Sir John A was a product of his time.

    So all of that aside, renaming the station is a stupid idea, no matter what one thinks of the policies enacted by Sir John A’s government back in its day. Union Station is part of this city’s historical fabric, and I do not believe that that history should be ditched for the sake of a political stunt.

    And by the way: that argument about “Union Station” being an American construct is lame. There were such stations all over North America back in the day. In fact, Winnipeg still has a Union Station, and once upon a time Ottawa and Regina had them, too (the building still exist in both cities, but neither of them are railway stations any more). So the name does have historical currency in Canada, and it definitely has deep roots here in Toronto. Sorry.


  19. This thread just got me into a mood of levity. If Union Station is renamed, let’s name it Steve Munro Station! I hope you see the humour is my suggestion. Somewhere out there, I’m convinced there’s someone who’d like to rename it Rob Ford Station! All kidding aside though, if there’s any group I can agree with 1,000 per cent with it’s those who want Union Station left alone. I now add my voice to that chorus. About the only train station that comes to mind as I speak that’s been named after an individual is Diridon Station in San Jose, California.

    Steve: I do not want a station named after me! If RoFo gets one, it should be lower Queen, a station that will never see transit service.


  20. The strongest argument for the Union name is that it’s well known and long standing. Things do get renamed once in a while, but there doesn’t appear to be a good reason for renaming this particular site.

    That said, Macdonald is not well commemorated in Toronto, even though it is the capital of the province from which he hailed. I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that Toronto today would likely be another Rochester (or less) if it wasn’t for the man’s singular political skills.

    The Province has decided to remove most Macdonald-Cartier Freeway signs, letting a few rust in place, leaving no significant site or infrastructure bearing his name in the city. Sometimes I wonder if it’s because Canadians truly can’t appreciate their history or achievements, or if it’s self-loathing. Macdonald deserves better.

    After reading DMW’s suggestion, my thoughts mirrored those of a previous poster, who suggested the new secondary rail station bear Macdonald’s name.


  21. Steve:

    Of course, we also have the Macdonald-Cartier Freeway which is nowhere near Union Station.

    Ironically, naming the 401 the Macdonald-Cartier Freeway probably represents the role of the Province of Canada (created by the union of Upper and Lower Canada in the 1840s) in striving to unite The British North American colonies by crashing the Charlottetown Conference in 1864 … that purpose of that conference being a union of the maritime colonies … all those unions.

    Ross Trusler said:

    The Province has decided to remove most Macdonald-Cartier Freeway signs, letting a few rust in place, leaving no significant site or infrastructure bearing his name in the city.

    The sad thing is that the strong relationship between Quebec and Ontario that was championed by Macdonald and Cartier (which is the foundation of the United Canada) is rusting away just like those signs.

    Ross Trusler said:

    Sometimes I wonder if it’s because Canadians truly can’t appreciate their history or achievements, or if it’s self-loathing. Macdonald deserves better.

    Perhaps the problem is that we don’t teach enough in schools about Macdonald’s role in the creation of Canada beyond his being the first Prime Minister and a “Father of Confederation”. From the selection of Ottawa as the capital of the Province of Canada to the crashing of the Charlottetown Conference (and all the drunken horse-trading that took place on the trip to Charlottetown) to the creation of Canada to the Canadian-Pacific Railway (and the scandal) John A. was in the thick of everything.

    I think the only thing John A. (or any other politician for that matter) deserve is a full and truthful accounting of their actions along with an explanation of their goals.

    Essentially, Denzil Minnan-Wong’s proposal and anger about John A.’s racism does exactly the same thing … it attempts to retell all of his history from one limited perspective. Any historian would say this is extremely wrong.

    Cheers, Moaz


  22. The ONLY name change I could consider giving some consideration to would be Toronto Centre. This would allow it to work well with other “centres” in the GTA, such as North York Centre, Scarborough Centre, Vaughan Centre, etc.


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