Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Naming Streets: Winnipeg's numbered streets fail.

May 22 1891, Manitoba Free Press

In an attempt to bring order to the rapidly expanding street system, Winnipeg looked both to the U.S. and to the neat, orderly railway-created towns of Western Canada for inspiration. On March 31, 1891, the city unveiled their new plan.

The names of most downtown streets were converted to numbers, the notable exceptions were Portage Avenue, Notre Dame Avenue and Main Street. Notre Dame became 'Centre Street' and streets were designated 'North' and 'South' in relation to Notre Dame. 

Even building numbers were given a uniform pattern, for example: "Avenues running east and west are numbered under 200 east of Main Street, Main to Princess 200 to 300 and west of Princess over 300." (Source: Henderson Directory, 1894).

April 19, 1892. Winnipeg Free Press.

Right from the start, the new system was panned, especially by the Manitoba Free Press.

Free Press editorial on January 11, 1898 said that doing away with street names were "...in utter disregard of meaning or sentiment of interest or character, and the people could not stand them."

The paper dragged its heels in providing information about the change. The above 'pocket guide' created by John Henderson of the Henderson Directories did not appear in the newspaper until six weeks after the changes took effect. It was introduced to readers jokingly as a way to save them from fretting about the new system:
"In order to retard a little of the premature aging of our citizens, the Free Press extends them the the following parallel list of old and new names". (Source: May 22, 1891, Manitoba Free Press).

1892 classified ad

Businesses owners and residents alike simply didn't convert to the new system. At an 1893 council meeting, two years after the change was announced, a postman told the chamber that of the 216 letters he had to deliver that day, only four used street numbers. 

Looking through newspaper ads of the day, aside from city notices and the odd classified, it seems that no businesses advertised using street numbers.

The city finally gave in and on October 31, 1893 street names were returned.

One leftover from the numbering system that can still be seen today is the Central Street / Notre Dame Avenue divide. At the time, most thoroughfares had multiple names, in some cases every few blocks. The city stitched together many of these, opting for one common street name north of Notre Dame and one south of Notre Dame. Examples we still see today include Donald and Princess; Carlton and Ellen; Langside and Lydia; Balmoral and Isabel.

For more on Winnipeg street name changes.


The View from Seven said...

I once worked with a woman who was interested in all things literary. She had moved here from Red Deer, Alta., which uses the numbered-street system, and told me that one of the things she liked about Winnipeg was the fact that we gave our streets proper names, with a story behind each name.

Another person who appreciated our street naming system was a young and homesick British expat, whose choice had been to move here with his parents or make his own way in the expensive U.K.

"I always like going past Cambridge Street," he told me. "It reminds me of home."

Interesting how these little details make a not-so-little difference in people's lives!

Anonymous said...

Numbered streets are great for navigating; you almost never get lost w/ the numbered grid. BUT, it totally lacks in character & flavour. Street names make it a little more unique.

Anonymous said...

I've always found it strange that in the midst of all the named streets of Winnipeg, there's still a Fifth Avenue in Norwood/Glenwood. Any idea on the history behind this name? I thought for sure if I looked at an old map all the streets around it would have been numbered as well, but that doesn't seem to be the case (judging by the 1919 map anyway).

Andrew Cunningham said...

Fifth Avenue was indeed one of a series that was renamed around the First World War sometime. My guess is that the "Fifth Avenue" name was kept because of the connection with the prestigious street in New York, but who knows (well, Mr. W. E. Dumplings probably does but that doesn't count).

There were other numbered series as well, including the avenues (or maybe it was the streets) in Norwood Flats. None of them lasted long.

mrchristian said...

I couldn't find a story behind it, either. The first newspaper reference I can find to '5th avenue' in the RM of St. Vital is in 1913.

Anonymous said...

The REAL reason that Winnipeg doesn't have numbered streets is so you are forced to memorize the names of freemasons to find your way around Winnipeg.

Being that Winnipeg is the epitome of a Masonic Creepshow (check out the Manitoba Legislative Building; the place is dripping with occult symbolism), you can thank the freemasons for naming almost all of Winnipeg's streets after their brother masons.

Why would they do something like name all the streets after their fellow masons, instead of logically using numbered streets to ease navigation around town?

Because you can't simply count, say, three streets West from Main Street, which should logically be named 3rd street, you have to remember that it's called "Smith" street, which is named after a mason.

Throw a dart at a map of Winnipeg and there is a 99% chance you will hit a freemason's name.

Nice work. Lucifer-worshiping goofs. GTFO