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Street names tell the story of Sarnia

Published on

Tom St. Amand

In 1938 Charlotte Nisbet Vidal, the local historian and granddaughter of city co-founder Captain Richard Vidal, said she was very thankful that Sarnia’s streets were named and not numbered.

Charlotte asserted that the city’s history is woven into its street names, along with the personal lives of its first residents. Today, her words still contain some truth.

Queen and Victoria streets, for example, were named for the youthful Queen Victoria when Port Sarnia was a colonial outpost of 800 people, thousands of miles from England.

And, closer to Charlotte’s heart, many of our early streets were named for pioneers, who weren’t averse to honouring themselves and family members.

People like Talfourd, Proctor, Fleming, Johnston, Cameron, Davis, Vidal, Durand, and Mackenzie, and a host of others, helped Sarnia flourish. And their names, at least, live on in our streets.

One exception to the trend was landowner Henry Jones. Instead of naming streets after his family he honoured men who, like himself, had served in the Napoleonic Wars. Collingwood, Cotterbury, St. Vincent and Capel were naval officers.

A local survey done in 1829 showed Laforge’s farm. Seven years later, the first plan of Sarnia revealed five streets. Today, about 700 streets are named for a wide variety of people and things.

They are named for monarchs and premiers, generals and explorers, prime ministers and artists.  They are named for wives, husbands, sons, daughters, grandsons, uncles and daughters-in-law.

Sometimes people’s names were blended. Streets like Clarendon Drive, D’Marrocco Court and Wilgrun Drive represent more than one person or family.

Other times, the spelling was reversed. Retlaw Drive is Walter Herridge’s first name backwards. Cyril Hallam’s last name gave us Mallah Drive.

And sometimes they were misspelled. Howston Street, for instance, much to the chagrin of the Howson family, has been spelled incorrectly for 60 years.

Some streets were named for admirable people: a mayor, a neighbour, an educator, a secretary, an employee. Five streets – Barclay, Berger, Eddy, Quinn and Wheatley – honour Sarnia soldiers who fought and lost their lives in the two Great Wars.

Then there are the streets named for things close to the heart: ancestral homes and birthplaces and vacation spots. Some carry the name of golf courses and trees, and flowers and birds — even a shopping mall.

However, there is not, as far as we know, any streets named after a family dog or cat, contrary to rumour and popular belief.

Some, however, are in French and Spanish. And at least one, Echo Road, evoked the memory of a pleasant sound.

Then there was Athole Street, difficult to spell and even more unpalatable to pronounce. Laid out in 1892, it lay empty for fourteen years before its name was wisely changed to the more inviting McClaren Avenue. People moved in the following year.

The naming of Sarnia’s streets was mostly a simple process, with a few twists and turns. The result is a diverse mix, a patchwork quilt.

Charlotte Nisbet might not recognize the Sarnia we live in today. But she would, no doubt, approve of the more than 700 street names that collectively tell its story.

The Sarnia Street Name Project has been able resolve the origin of all but two dozen streets, including those below. Anyone with any information can email it to [email protected]


Andrew Court

Chelsea Drive

Daley Avenue

Griffith Road

Hadfield Crescent

Joel Park

Jordon Drive

Lang Street

Lee Court

Ryan Street

Vye Street

Winslow Crescent

Winton Road

Wilmont Place

Tom St. Amand is co-author of the soon-to-be released Sarnia Street Project. The above is condensed from its preface.





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