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GUEST COLUMN: So who gets to name Sarnia’s streets?

Published on

Randy Evans

Special to The Journal

In April of 1954 a controversy arose over the proposed naming of Flamingo Drive. For some reason, various citizens and members of council didn’t feel a pink tropical bird was an appropriate source for a Sarnia street name.

But the critics lost. Mayor William Nelson and Alderwoman Ruth Donohue reaffirming the traditional practice of land owners and developers naming city streets.

Declared Donohue: “If a developer wants to name a street after his Aunt Emm, it’s his right.”

The “Aunt Emm rule” has held to this date.

The only reported exception to this occurred in April of 1866, when council passed a bylaw establishing nine street names: Elizabeth was changed to Vidal; Derby, Russell and Prague to Russell; Mechanic to Emeric; Elgin was changed to Mackenzie; an unnamed lane to Fleming; Nelson to Johnston; Durham changed to Napier; Francis to Davis; and Sarnia’s most southerly road to Watson.

To be sure, Sarnia has had a street naming committee over the years. It appears, however, for the most part this group has had limited influence–mainly restricting its efforts to preventing name duplication.

So, various landowners and developers have chosen the names on Sarnia’s street signs. Some might question the efficacy of this. Indeed, numerous street names add absolutely nothing of significance to the city – its history or otherwise.

Further, as in the case of honouring Sarnia’s fallen veterans, some historical aspects of the area are sorely underrepresented.

These drawbacks aside, it is noteworthy that the Aunt Emm policy has resulted in hundreds of citizens being involved in the naming streets over the years.

Each brought to the task not only his or her name, but also surroundings, interests, people and events of their time, whether local, provincial, national or international.

Each geographic location named has an importance. Each event noted was celebrated or endured.

And each person’s name reflects an individual or family who – for better or worse – was part of the Sarnia mosaic over the generations.

Editor’s note:

Randy Evans and Tom St. Amand are now putting the finishing touches on the Sarnia Street Name Project.

So far, the two researchers have compiled information on 718 of Sarnia’s 772 streets, culled from old deeds, documents and title searches. They also used tips and other info from 360 individual residents.

The finished product this fall will be a free resource available to all online at the Sarnia Historical Society and city websites, and possibly a book for schools and libraries.

A handful of street names are still a mystery, however, including Ryan, Toro, Clifford, Devine, Joel Park, Evan and Vye.

Anyone with any info about these or other streets can email it to [email protected]






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