What's In A Street Name?T. SHER SINGH
Saturday, June 16, 2012
What’s in a name? What’s in a street name?’
Isn’t there some importance to the proper naming of streets, for example - all of our public places, in fact?
Let me take one example - of how Canada, my own country, deals with this task.
Canada has hundreds of thousands of streets, roadways, highways. They are scattered across its land, in cities and towns, villages and rural communities, and even in the spaces that connect them to each other.
Isn’t each a golden opportunity to honour a Canadian who deserves to be remembered by future generations? Or an event in our history?
We perennially ask ourselves the question: Why don’t we have a national identity? Yet we are seldom willing to do anything about it.
For example, here’s how we name our streets in Toronto:
We have a Forest Wood Drive … a Forest Creek … Forest Glen … Forest Grove … Forest Heights … Forest Hill … Forest Lane … Forest Manor … Forest Path … Forest Point … Forest Ridge … Forest View.
In a spurt of creativity, even a Forest Brook Crescent!
I have but named a fraction of those that honour the forest.
What fertile imagination!
Especially when we first tear down the forests to carve out the streets and roads, and then name them after the very forests that …
The question, of course, is: When will we start naming our streets and public places after those who have helped build this country, so that this and future generations will be inspired to follow their footsteps?
We have Pine Avenue, Pine Crescent, Pine Street, Pine Terrace, but not one street named after Frank Scott who, I believe, was one of the greatest Canadians of the 20th century. No surprise: a mere two decades or so after his death, few know of him any more.
I bet you, if we did a survey on a street today, not one out of ten citizens would be able to say he/she has ever heard of him, leave alone know much about him and his life work.
We don’t have a single street called Diefenbaker.
But we do have a Toronto Street in Toronto.
Why? To make sure people don’t forget the city they are in?
Mississauga has a Mississauga Crescent and a Mississauga Heights Drive, but nothing to honour the likes of Chief Dan George.
Does anybody think names like Judy LaMarsh, Margaret Laurence and Marshall McLuhan are worth remembering and passing on to our children?
I have, so far, merely named a string of ‘mainstream’ figures who have slowly, within a single generation or two, slipped into oblivion.
But what about the nation-builders from the immigrant communities and minority groups who have had no less a role in building this nation and helping make it the envy of the world?
So far, I have merely examined our failures in this regard within Canada. Do other countries and communities deal with this any better?
Some might question what naming a street after anyone specific would achieve.
Well, not much … by itself.
But a simple step, like the proper naming of our landmarks, can be a good starting point, and an easy one. It costs nothing. It requires no great imagination. No consultant needs to be hired. No complicated legislation has to be enacted. No debates in Parliament are required.
New streets appear on the scene, somewhere or the other, every day. Naming them one way as opposed to another requires no extra cash outlay. It does not have to be done by committee or elaborate community input, if done by any one intelligently and thoughtfully, with sensitivity and a sense of history.
The point is: If we have no interest in doing the simplest of things right, let’s not hold our collective breath waiting for a Canadian identity to suddenly manifest itself one of these days.
Or expect our future generations to be well versed in their antecedents. Will they even know whose shoulders they stand on?
How about a street named Wilson Head?
And Gurdit Singh?
Both were extraordinary figures - giants, actually - in Canadian history.
You don’t know who they are?
Exactly! That’s my point.
Why are we then still naming our streets Cherry Street … Cherry Nook … Cherry Post … Cherry Dale … Cherry Hill … Cherry Lawn … Cherry Stone … Cherry Wood …?
Conversation about this article
1: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), June 16, 2012, 6:28 AM.
This morning I was lost in a maze of streets. I had to take our maestro, Dya Singh, to have his offending tooth fixed. "Do you know how to reach my clinic?" asked Dr. Trilochan Kaur. "No, I do not". "It is simple," she said, "you take the highway, turn on the first left at Sunway, then right, then left, then a 'U' turn, then first left, and immediately right. Is that clear?" Yes, I said, crystal clear, but do you have the coordinates? "Now, what the heck is that?" Never mind ... I will go to the police station.
2: Rosalia Scalia (Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.A.), June 16, 2012, 3:03 PM.
Wonderful piece! In the U.S., there is a town called Springfield in just about every state and just about every city has a High St. a Low St, and a Lombard St. Baltimore, where I live, does honor its stalwart citizens: there is Calvert St. (Lord Calvert) and even a Bonapart Street. Bonapart St. is named after Napoleon's brother who had married a Baltimore woman, much to his brother's chagrin. Despite this marriage having produced three children, Napoleon stepped in, annulled it, remarried his brother to some German princess, leaving Betsy Patterson Bonapart in dire straits. Her father also wasn't pleased with the marriage; he didn't want his daughter to be married to what he had considered Royal Euro-trash, and so instead of leaving his assets to Betsy and her children, he left a sizable land parcel to the city of Baltimore, now known for its lovely Patterson Park, one of the biggest parks in the city but only a fraction of the land that Betsy's father bequeathed to the city. Every time I pass Bonapart St. I think of Betsy Patterson and her ill-fated marriage, doomed because politics trumped love.