May 22 1891, Manitoba Free PressIn 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.
A 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).
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.