what’s in a name?

 

July 16, 2020

Where in Vernon is Elizabeth Street? What about Connaught or Vance Street? If you’re scratching your head, you’re not alone. Nowadays, we know these three streets as 31st, 19th, and 33rd.

On October 20, 1947, after a lengthy, two-year discussion, the Vernon City Council passed a bylaw that changed the city’s historic street names to a set of numbered streets and avenues. Price Street became 28th Avenue, Sully Street became 33rd Street, Regina Street became 17th Street, and so on. 

While the Council likely had several logistical reasons for this change, a group of outspoken citizens, headed by a committee of the Vernon Old Timer’s Association, felt that this change was a disservice to the pioneering men and women whose initiative, business acumen, or civic service merited the honour of having a street named after them. They blamed the changing of a system that had worked for more than sixty years on “modernization, a burgeoning population, and the post office.” 

 

 

The above photo was taken in 1922. Notice the street names on the bottom left

 

The committee’s main “adversary” was the youthful and progressive Junior Chamber of Commerce; J.G. Simms was quoted in the Vernon News as saying that “those who are trying to change the street names are  virtual strangers compared to the old settlers.” It appears to have been quite a heated debate.

A referendum on the question was held in May of 1947, and 56% of citizens had voted against the change. However, five months later, after consulting with a city solicitor who ensured them that they were legally, if not morally, allowed to so do, Council quietly passed the bylaw.

At that time, some of the street names were retained alongside their new numbered descriptions, perhaps to appease the majority of citizens who had opposed the change. This is why you might have noticed some less-than-familiar names appearing on street signs around town under their assigned number; names like Ellison Street, Girouard Street, and Mara Street might still be recognizable to some of Vernon’s older residents, but they aren’t often referred to as such nowadays, and are much more familiar as 28th Avenue, 35th Street, and 27th Street.

The passionate debate of the 1940s over the reordering of Vernon’s street truly makes one wonder “what’s in a name?” Would our downtown core be any different if 30th Avenue was still known as Barnard Avenue?

Gwyn Evans