Lloyd McKell addressed the City’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee (PWIC)

Remarks to Toronto City Council
Lloyd McKell, Chair, Mandela Legacy Committee
August 13, 2013

Thank you Mr. Chair and members, for this opportunity to address you on this item. I speak on behalf of the Mandela Legacy Committee which has been formed, following Mandela passing, to support activities in Canada which preserve memory of his life and accomplishments, and to work with groups and institutions to promote his vision of a society free from all forms of discrimination through our own actions here in our country.

First, we wish to commend Council for your unanimous approval of a motion to dedicate a prominent Toronto Street after Nelson Mandela, honorary citizen of Canada. Your decision in fact re-affirms the decision you made twenty-four years ago, in June 1990, when Council proclaimed Mandela an honorary citizen of the city of Toronto, on the occasion of his first visit to Canada. We also wish to thank Councillor Pasternak for bringing this matter forward last April.

We are here to advocate for the dedication of University Avenue in honour of Nelson Mandela. The preference for University Avenue is also shared by the vast majority of respondents to the City’s on-line consultation conducted in June of this year. We also note the motion of Councillors McConnell, Ramkhalawansingh and Wong-Tam proposing University Avenue as their choice. We fully support their motion.

For the public consultation, staff presented five worthy street choices for this honour, each of which can rightly lay claim to be on the list for consideration. Any one of these streets and their surrounding neighbourhoods would undoubtedly gain a tremendous boost to their profile with a Nelson Mandela designation.

We believe however that University Avenue, one of Toronto’s most impressive and distinguished roadways, well known to both residents and visitors, represents the most fitting tribute to Nelson Mandela¸ for the following reasons:

1) University Avenue and its surroundings project an elegant mix of historic buildings and modern establishments reflecting Mandela’s own journey from South Africa’s past to its present.

But it is the great mix of people working together in those prestigious establishments, or visiting or just passing through on University Avenue and its surroundings, that is a visual reflection of Mandela’s own vision of a society in which people of all races and cultures can inhabit the same public and private spaces together in harmony, and without fear of intimidation because of their race or culture. University Avenue, like many of our main arteries in this city, captures that spirit of inclusiveness very well.

2) University Avenue is well known by residents and visitors to Toronto and easily accessible by them. Because of the many distinguished financial institutions and other businesses, internationally recognized hospitals, research institutions, and hotels; its proximity to performing and visual arts centres and other places of culture; its proximity to fine restaurants, universities, sports arenas, the Waterfront; its proximity to City Hall and Queen’s Park, and to other noteworthy places where people go to conduct business, for services, for cultural enrichment and for entertainment, University Avenue is perhaps Toronto’s best known arterial hub.

Further, its multiple access points by TTC north-south and east-west make University Avenue very accessible by people who want to experience a roadway named after world hero Nelson Mandela. People won’t have to go off the beaten track to find it.

3) University Avenue, has enormous potential to be a cultural showcase in this city, more than is possible with the other options. The avenue has exciting possibilities to reflect the memory and spirit of Mandela, as well as to reflect our own values of diversity and inclusiveness. The staff report states this potential as follows:

The street segment should have the capacity for an enhanced public realm, should future installations reflecting the dedication be desired.

Imagine as you walk north or south on University Avenue, designated as Nelson Mandela Boulevard, you pause to admire a handsome statue or bust of Mandela, somewhere on the centre median among those beautiful mini-gardens, erected to complement all those illustrious monuments already there. As you walk, you also pause to read along the way, tastefully erected showcases with photos of Mandela on one of his visits to Canada or of his extraordinary life, or with an inspiring quote from him, or for that matter any inspiring quote or message from any recognized and respected Canadian historical figure which similarly expresses our own collective commitment to social justice, inclusiveness, human rights and democracy.

Imagine as you walk, you pause to rest awhile, on some bench with an inscription in honour of Mandela in an attractive alcove abutting one of the avenue’s generous sidewalks. The bench is contributed by a BIA or individual property owner. Yes, University Avenue can become more than a simple ceremonial street dedication identified only by a few street signs.

These are just a sample of possibilities that exist only in our imagination at this point in time, and would need to be put to the test of practical and budgetary considerations. We mention them only to suggest that University Avenue, among the options presented, has the greatest potential for exploration of these possibilities. There are no doubt, roadways, parks, city squares and other public spaces named or to be named after Mandela in the world today. We here in Toronto, have the potential to create the best, most exciting Nelson Mandela Street in the world on University Avenue, if we took the opportunity over the next little while, to think creatively about what more we could add to the Mandela street signage along this grand roadway. It would become a great source of pride for the people of Toronto, for Ontarians, and indeed for all Canadians, and would be a great attraction to visitors to our city.

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Mr. Chair, Nelson Mandela’s visits to Canada had a huge impact on our city and its people: on his first visit in June 1990, thousands of people turned out at Central Technical High School and later at Queen’s Park to hear him speak about the struggle to achieve freedom and justice for all the people of South Africa, and to thank Canadians for supporting the struggle against apartheid. On his second visit to our city, President Mandela addressed over 45,000 of our students at Toronto SkyDome in what was billed as the world’s largest classroom lesson, telling them about the hopes and dreams of the people of South Africa for a society free from all forms of discrimination; and on his third and final visit in November 2001, where he attended the renaming of Toronto’s oldest public school in his honour, he told the children of Nelson Mandela Park Public School in Regent Park, that he loved each and every one of them as if they were his own grandchildren.

The street dedication of University Avenue, one of our most prominent streets, to Nelson Mandela, is an excellent way for us to recognise for all time, the great contribution that he has made to our city and country, to South Africa and to the world.

We urge you to give favourable consideration today to the selection of University Avenue, for dedication in honour of Nelson Mandela.

Thank you.

Lloyd McKell
Chair, Mandela Legacy Committee