May 22 1891, Manitoba Free PressIn an attempt to bring order to its rapidly expanding street system, the city of Winnipeg looked to both the U.S. and the railway-created towns of Western Canada for inspiration.
The works committee, led by Alderman John B. Mather, was tasked with creating the new numbered system. What it came up with was changing virtually all streets in the city to numbers. The exceptions being Portage Avenue, Notre Dame Avenue and Main Street.
Notre Dame became 'Centre Street' and streets were designated 'North' and 'South' in relation to it.
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).
At their March 9, 1891 meeting, council approved the plan unanimously. It would come into effect starting March 31, 1891, though they realized there would be a transition period of many months as everything from street signs to company letterhead would need to be changed.
April 19, 1892. Winnipeg Free Press.
Right from the start, the new system was panned by many. A Manitoba 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 even dragged its heels in providing information about the change to the public.
The 'pocket guide' pictured at the top of this post, created by John Henderson of the Henderson Directories, did not appear in the Free Press 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).
The change was ignored by the public. At an 1893 council meeting, two years after the change was announced, a postman told members 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 appears 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.
In the mid-1940s, Alderman J. Stepnuk tried to resuscitate interest in numbered streets to replace "the present muddled system of names". He brought up the matter at various points over the year, but it was never seriously considered by his colleagues.
For more on Winnipeg street name changes.