© 2021, Christian Cassidy
The New York Times published an article titled The Secrets Of Street Names and Home Values a few years back. The authors studied a large data dump of real estate transactions and found that houses on streets with uncommon names tended to sell for more money than those with common ones like "Main Street" or numbered streets.
Even the best real estate agent would have had trouble shifting properties on the uncommon and unfortunately named Rodent Street in Elmwood in the early 1900s.
Elmwood's Rodent Street didn't always have that name. It was once known as Robert Street and was created around 1905. According to the 1906 Henderson's street directory, it ran from Dearborn Avenue to Garden Avenue (now Gordon Avenue). There were five homes listed on the street that were so new that they had not yet been assigned house numbers.
Winnipeg had a much older Robert Street in what was then the southern edge of the Point Douglas neighbourhood. It stretched from the Red River to the side of 56 Lily Street and is now known as Galt Avenue.
Residents of Elmwood voted in favour of amalgamation with the City of Winnipeg in 1906 so that they could access big city services like streetcars and a professional fire brigade and police force. This union meant that several duplicate street names in the two municipalities had to be sorted out.
Elmwood, as the new kid, ended up being the one that had to let its street names go.
Winnipeg's assessment commissioner, J. W. Harris, appeared at the the August 1906 meeting of the Board of Works and presented a list of duplicate names and suggestions for their replacement. The list included Jackson Avenue in Elmwood to Johnson Avenue, Chambers Street in Elmwood to Chalmers Street, and Robert Street in Elmwood to Rodent Street.
The three daily papers mentioned the name changes presented at this meeting and again when they were finally passed at the December 1906 city council meeting. No mention was ever made about opposition to Rodent Street, which surely would have conjured up images of rats and disease at a time when both were serious issues in the city.
It is unlikely that Harris, or whoever drew up the list of proposed new names, put a great deal of thought into them. When a mass change of street names was needed, a common occurrence in the city's early decades, the city tried to keep the new and old names as close as possible even though the original name may have been rooted in history, such as the family name of a former landowner.
There's little other explanation for the Robert to Rodent name change. Rodent Street did not run into the Elmwood dump - that was much further east near the present-day Nairn Overpass. I also checked to see if there was a "Mr. Rodent" in Elmwood's history who may have spelled it that way but, a la Keeping Up Appearances, pronounced it differently. I could find nobody with that last name.
Three months after the renaming, Rodent Street was back before city council and they voted to change it again to Brazier Street. Why the quick turnaround? It may have had to do with a complaint or suggestion from the family for whom the street was renamed for.
In just a few months the street in question had lengthened significantly. There was the original piece that stretched from the river to Gordon Avenue and now an extension that went from Chalmers Avenue to Municipal Road, likely present-day Munroe Avenue. The only residence on that northern section was that of Albert Brazier and family, (more about them below.)
The 1908 street directory should have been reflected the March 1907 name change, yet shows both a Rodent Street, that southern portion with the five houses, AND a Brazier Street, the northern portion with the Brazier house on it.
Street directories weren't perfect. It sometimes took a couple of editions for it to get in sync with some changes, but a listing for Rodent Street with residents on it lasted until 1911. It's hard to imagine that a resident on the street didn't point out to the directory's publishers that it had the wrong street name.
It could have been that that city officials, unfamiliar with this new suburb, only drew up the name change for the northern portion and had not realized that the street took a break fora couple of blocks then continued south to the river.
In the 1912 directory the houses finally disappear from Rodent Street and reappear under Brazier Street. Curiously, Rodent Street without any addresses on it, continues to be listed in the street directory until 1918.
Who were the Braziers?
Albert Brazier was born in England and came to Winnipeg in with his family at the age of four in 1872. He was educated at St. John's College, (then located in the North End), and after graduation worked for the institution in charge the grounds, gardens and domestic staff. In 1894, he married Bessie Heath and they had four children.
Around the time of his marriage, Brazier bought a four acre plot of land around what is today Brazier Street and Martin Avenue and the family moved there for a time. In 1906, they built a larger house at 1025 Henderson Highway, which today is around the site of the Curtis Gordon Hotel, and continued to farm the Brazier Street land.
Brazier retired from the college in 1913 and took to tending his land full-time as a hobby gardener. He died in 1933 and Bessie died in 1950.
Brazier Street was slow to develop. In 1949, Tribune columnist Lillian Gibbons wrote a profile of the street and described it as stretching from Midwinter Avenue to Eldorado Avenue, where the present day Northdale Shopping Centre is. She called the north end of the street "a charming, rural place, like a summer resort".