Exploring the street names of Red Deer

No one knows why Red Deer has an unusual street and avenue pattern

One of the most frequently asked questions when it comes to the names of street and avenues in Red Deer is why the north-south roadways are called avenues and the east-west roads are streets. The usual pattern in North America is the other way around.

The simple answer is that no one knows for sure.

The original townsite of Red Deer was mapped out by George Bemister in November 1890. Generally, he called the north-south thoroughfares avenues. However, he was not consistent in his pattern of names. While the main north-south road was designated as Gaetz Avenue, the main east-west road was called Ross Avenue. This anomaly continued from 1890 to 1909 when the Town of Red Deer finally changed the name to Ross Street.

In the original townsite plan of Red Deer, almost all the streets and avenues were named after the senior officials of the Calgary-Edmonton Railway Company, which was constructed through Red Deer in 1890-1891.

Hence, Mann (49th) St. and McKenzie (49th) Ave. were named after Sir Donald Mann and Sir William McKenzie, the two superintendents for the railway contractors and later the founders of the Canadian Northern Railway.

One exception to this pattern came with the naming of Gaetz Avenue. Rev. Leonard Gaetz provided a half share of his farm for the townsite of Red Deer and thus got one of the major roads named after him.

While the initial intent with the street and avenue names was to provide a perpetual remembrance of the C&E Railway officials, only one of those names continues to this day. That is Ross which is named after Sir James Ross, the head of the C&E Railway.

In 1913, the City of Red Deer decided to move away from named streets and avenues and to adopt a new system, much like the one that had been used in Calgary.

The City was divided into four quadrants and the streets and avenues were given numbers such as 1st St. S.E. and 2nd Ave. N.W. In a few spots downtown, these numbers can still be seen embedded in the sidewalks.

A few thoroughfares kept their names, such as Ross and Gaetz as well as Waskasoo (now 45th) Ave.

In another anomaly that defies reasonable explanation, 7th St. S.W. (now 43rd St.) was universally called Victoria Avenue.

In 1947, when natural gas service was being installed, Northwestern Utilities asked the City to adopt an Edmonton-style system (e.g. 52nd St. and 47th Ave.) The Central Alberta Pioneers and Old Timers Association protested the loss of historical names.

Consequently, 50th St. and 50th Ave. continued to have their original designations as Ross and Gaetz.

Over the next several years, this new pattern was followed with occasional exceptions such as Spruce Drive.

In 1961, when the Sunnybrook subdivision was developed, the traditional grid pattern of streets was not used. This meant that a system of named rather than numbered streets would be more practical. A decision was also made that the names would all start with the same letter as the subdivision.

Initially, there was no particular significance to the names used. However, in 1964, the Old Timers Association convinced the City to use pioneer family and prominent residents’ names for the streets.

Morrisroe was the first subdivision where this new policy was followed.

The former City’s Archives Committee was asked to prepare a list of 35 to 40 names of pioneers, long-time residents and prominent citizens with the same letter as the new subdivision.

This list was then passed on to a City naming committee for a selection of names which were to be relatively easy to spell, and which did not conflict with any existing street names.

With arterial roads, or ones that extended through several subdivisions, numbers continued to be used. However, there were occasional exceptions such as Taylor Drive, which is the major arterial road running north and south on the west side of the City.

The mix of numbered thoroughfares with named streets and avenues continues. However, often the names used are no longer those of long-time and/or prominent residents and families.

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