Streets of Sarnia project reaches the end of the road

George Mathewson

Robin Lane was one of the final pieces of the Streets of Sarnia puzzle, and it wasn’t a perfect fit.

Researchers Tom St. Amand and Randy Evans have been digging into the origin of city street names since 2014, and they emerged with two different explanations for the north-end lane.

“According to residents, there was a Scotch collie named Robin that ran around in that area,” St. Amand said.

But a footpath between Charlesworth and Devonshire that predated the street was a popular place with robin redbreasts, the wife of the developer told one homeowner.

“So either way, Robin was not a human. It was named for a bird or a dog,” St. Amand said.

The Sarnia Street Project is a free, online compendium that brings together for the first time the story behind the name of almost every boulevard, crescent and cul-de-sac in the city.

City council accepted the final update earlier this month and it will soon be available shortly on the city’s website, staff said.

In the end, Evans and St. Amand solved all but 20 or so of Sarnia’s 700-plus streets by hunting through books, newspapers, plans of subdivision, archival material and following the tips and leads of 500 different residents.

Many people with first-hand knowledge of local history are elderly or have passed on. Had the project begun a decade earlier every street might have been solved, St. Amand said.

“A lot of the names we got, you couldn’t find in a book or a record. They were by word of mouth.”

The pair said the volunteer project has been a journey both strange and wonderful, from Johnston Street (“half the people in Sarnia at the time had that name” to Russell Street, named for an English prime minister and not a local beer baron, as formerly believed.

Then, of course, there was Athole Street. Planned and surveyed in 1892, the street remained vacant for years because nobody wanted to live on it, for some reason. Finally, in 1906 the name was changed to McLaren Avenue and people started moving in the next year.

Evans said he hopes developers will help by documenting the names they give new streets for future generations.

“Our time is done, but maybe someone in the city will step up and take over,” he said.

The Streets of Sarnia Project can be found at www.sarnia.ca (under ‘Living Here’) and the Sarnia Historical Society website, www.sarniahistoricalsociety.com (under Projects).