Where Do Streets get Their Names?
The who, how and why of the streets of Brantford.
Scott Egan, August 04, 2022 // Brantford, OntarioThe small sign for East Ave in East Ward. Staff photo.
In a city the age of Brantford, street names come from many places. We have the obvious ones named for past physical attributes of the area — Elm, Lynnwood, Port, Market, etc. The ones for royalty like King, Queen, Elizabeth, Victoria, George. The ones for British military — Chatham, Wellington et al. Some are directions — West, North, South. Local famous people get honoured with street names and some streets get named for silly reasons and no reasons. Here are some local street names that I find interesting in one way or another.
So, I grew up in East Ward on East Avenue. East Avenue was originally called Northumberland Street until 1920 when it was changed to East Avenue. The reason? Northumberland was too big to fit on the street sign. Northumberland Street used to cross Canning Street, not the soon to be Canning Street in West Brant, that they renamed to Park Avenue because it had a park on it. That freed up the name Canning Street for a street in West Brant. See, this can get weird.
A lot of times streets get named for famous people. The second house I lived in here in Brantford was on Sarah Street, named for the famous theatre actor Sarah Bernhardt, no connection to Brantford whatsoever. There’s Henry Street that’s possibly named for former Mayor Robert Henry, Henry VIII or local racetracker owner Edward Henry Webling, we’re not really sure. Adams Boulevard — that’s named for artist Frank Adams, which kind of makes sense.
Both Frank Adams prints from the author’s private horde. Staff photo.
Another one that mostly makes sense is Lawren S Harris Drive, Harris being born in Brantford and a famous artist and member of the renowned Group of Seven (of which there are 10). Four other members of the Group of Seven have streets named for them up in that area of Mayfair too. Why only four? I do not know. Mayfair, being named for the fashionable area in London, England, is just littered with British street names. Balmoral, Cambridge, Dorchester, Shaftesbury, Somerset and Oxford to name a few. Similar to the street in Brier Park that is named Highgate Place, after another suburb in London, England, the developer got a little trigger happy with the “gate” names in the area. Southgate Road, Westgate Circle and Irongate Place are all named in this fashion with no real purpose. There was no iron gate there.
This is another way many streets get their names: a developer just decides on them. Take the neighbourhood of Greenbrier for example. Even the name “Greenbrier” is the name of the development company that made the area. Not only is the neighbourhood named for the company, but also both Brier Crescent and Brier Place hold part of the company name. Also, the streets Albert, Barbara, Baxter, Evelyn, Frances, Grace, Janet and Norman are named for the developer’s family members.
In other cases an area carries all the names of one family for other reasons like in this one part of Eagle Place. In 1854 an Irish man named Tom Mintern purchased a nice chunk of land along the Cockshutt Road (later to be renamed Erie Avenue). His son Michael would later buy the land adjoining the back of his father’s lot, fronting Mohawk Road, making a sizeable area of Eagle Place the property of the Mintern family. When Michael later divided the land into lots for sale he did so on the spot that is now the corner of Mintern Avenue and Division Street. He named all the streets for his children and one for his mother, Elizabeth Heagerty. All these streets still run off Mintern Street. Heagerty Street for mum, the oldest got Harriett Street. The only son got Tom Street. Elizabeth Jane Mintern was always called Lida like her grandmother so there’s a Lida Street. There’s a tiny little street for Edith Mintern, or Blossie as she was called, who died at age three. Ariel Dorothy, who died at one year old, is why there’s a Dorothy Street, and Ruth Street is for another daughter.
Blossie Mintern’s headstone, the only original one still standing at the family plot in Greenwood Cemetery and where the streets meet so they say her name. Staff photos.
Sometimes neighbourhoods and streets get their names from the people just nicknaming the area. This has happened in the areas of West Brant, like Gilkison Street. In 1832, the Gilkison family came to the area from Scotland and settling in West Brant on Wentworth Street, people just called it Gilkison’s Street. In 1889, the street was changed to Scarfe Street (not to be confused with Scarfe Avenue in Holmedale), but people still called it Gilkison’s. Then in 1920 it was finally named Gilkison Street. There’s also an area called the Brooklyn Park Survey. Both the survey and Brooklyn Avenue got named this because people used to refer to West Brant as Brooklyn. So, in 1957 Edwards Avenue became Brooklyn Avenue.
The Branlyn/Banbury area of the city has an interesting story behind a lot of its street names as well. Any resident or visitor to the area might notice a pattern up there. The original owner of the land was a man named Max Webster (no connection to the Canadian classic rock band). He was really into horses and many of the streets are named for his horses, other famous horses and horse-related things. With names like Hackney Ridge and Trotter Lane, you catch the drift. But when you add Dante and Pinto Crescents, Ponytrail and Palamino Drives, it’s on thick. Plus Equestrian, Pacer, Flamboro and Secretariat Courts it gets ridiculous how horsey this area is named. And I could go on. I won’t, but I could. There are more horse-themed streets.
Walter Gretzky, October 8, 1938 - March 4, 2021. Stock photo.
Even Colborne Street has had different names. Before 1957, it was the Hamilton Road and Colborne Street West on the other side of the river was the Oxford Road. As times change so can the names of our streets. Sometimes we get saddled with silly names for silly reasons, like Icomm Drive replacing the Ring Road. Sometimes we get a cool little street like Penny Lane up in Brier Park, named because someone who had pull was a Beatles fan. It also shows that names can change, names can change. I propose two street name changes. First, we change Wayne Gretzky Parkway to Walter Gretzky Memorial Parkway because Walter was super cool and we all like Walter more anyway, admit it. It’d be a wonderful tribute to one of the greatest Brantfordians of all time, that could possibly be. And number two, I propose we change East Avenue back to Northumberland Street. We just make comically large street signs. Come on, we can do this! Let’s make this happen, Brantford.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Scott Egan, best described as an extroverted hermit. Scott is an afficionado of all things old, odd and esoteric. An avid reader and collector, he’s accumulated a backlog of legends and lore that he loves to share with most anyone who will listen. A father of two, Scott lives along with his feline soulmate amongst thousands of books and hundreds of objects of the strange and unusual.