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Road scholars: Researchers tracking down origin of Sarnia’s street names

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George Mathewson

Sarnia has 14 different streets that feature either the word “Huron” or “Lake” in their name.

Alfred Street wasn’t named after the English king, as long believed, but for Alfred Shepherd, who owned lots in the area.

And Emma Street drew its handle from Emma Bothwell, who, remarkably, as a single woman, bought the land surrounding the south-end street in 1899.

Those are just a few of the informational tidbits Randy Evans and Tom St. Amand have gathered since launching an ambitious project last fall to determine the origins of as many Sarnia street names as possible.

Their goal is to create a free, online resource available to everyone at the city’s official website, and possibly a book for schools and libraries.

“Streets like Vidal and Mackenzie, we know all about them. But many streets were named by landowners and developers. That’s unknown history and we want to fill in the blanks before the sources are lost,” Evans said.

The pair has researched about 200 streets so far; culling data from the land registry office, back issues of The Observer, census stats and history books.

One of the most important sources, however, are the residents of Sarnia themselves. In fact, about 70 people have already contributed to the non-profit project, St. Amand said.

“There may be an older family out there who knows the history of a certain street, why it’s named after so-and-so. We really need the community’s help.”

One Sarnia subdivision was named after trees, and others for prime ministers and artists.

Early Bright’s Grove settler Henry Jones, a purser in the British navy, named Collingwood, St. Vincent and Nelson after admirals in the Napoleonic War.

But the origin of numerous city streets have never been recorded or explained, and a few, such as Clarence and Clarendon, remain a complete mystery.

Like many great ideas, the street name project was hatched over a beer at the Legion Hall.

St. Amand and Evans had been contributors to the non-profit City of Sarnia War Remembrance Project, the first full and permanent record of local soldiers who gave their lives from the Boer War onward.

But when that was complete, Mayor Mike Bradley suggested they shift their research to street names, Evans said.

“Since then, we’ve met a lot of people who have said, ‘I would love to know how my street got its name.’”

Anyone with any information can email it to [email protected]





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