It took two years and the collective wisdom of 450 local residents, but it’s done.
The Sarnia Street Project is a free, online compendium that brings together for the first time the story behind the name of every street, boulevard, crescent and cul-de-sac in the city.
Well, almost every one.
Researchers Tom St. Amand and Randy Evans have compiled an entry for each of the city’s 700-plus streets, and most come with colourful stories and reams of history.
But, alas, a handful remains unexplained.
“And those are the ones that are driving us crazy,” said St. Amand, a retired teacher.
The 550-page volume is meticulously researched and laid out clearly in alphabetical order.
Say you live on Egmond Street. Now you can go online and find Anthony Egmond was a shadowy figure that dabbled in crime, fled his native Netherlands and lived under an assumed name.
Or say you live on McLaren Avenue. Planned and surveyed in 1892, the street was originally called – you can’t make this stuff up – Athole Street.
For some reason, no one wanted to live on Athole Street and it remained vacant for years. Finally, in 1906 the name was changed to McLaren Avenue and people started moving in the next year.
Sarnia’s streets run the gamut from Abbott, Canada’s third prime minister, to York, named for the English city founded by the Roman around 71 A.D.
The Project was hatched over a beer at the Legion Hall. Evans and St. Amand had contributed to the City of Sarnia War Remembrance Project and when that was done Mayor Mike Bradley suggested they turn their research talents to street names.
They nailed 30 in a week and figured they’d have things wrapped in six months.
Data came from the land registry office, old issues of The Observer, census stats, genealogies and history books. Their most important source, however, proved to be the residents of Sarnia themselves.
Over the past two years 450 different people have provided interviews, emails, tips and family stories.
“Sarnia history books are full of the Camerons and the Vidals, and rightly so,” said Evans, a retired assistant Crown attorney. “But this adds hundreds of new names. These people are important too.”
I confess, I’m a little envious. I’ve done a few stories about city streets over the years and envisioned something fuller as a fun retirement project.
But these Road Scholars have produced the definitive canon, one that historians and regular folk alike will enjoy for generations to come.
Nevertheless, if you have anything on Griffith, Evan, Joel Park, Jordan, O’Dell, Rex, Andrew, Ryan or Long and Lee Court, they’d still love to hear from you at email@example.com
The Streets of Sarnia Project is expected to be available shortly at www.city.sarnia.on.ca, following city council’s approval Monday night, and any day now on the Sarnia Historical Society website, www.sarniahistoricalsociety.com