MAIN STREET CANADA
CHARLES W. STOKES
FORTUNE and the favor of a shipping magnate made me recently the guest of a Liverpool-bound steamship for that part of the voyage that lies between Montreal and Quebec-an insignificant part, truly, but long enough to sense some of the subtle atmosphere of what was to so many a "homeward"-bound trip. Mingling with some of the groups on deck one thing made itself apparent. It was that the pent-up affection of most of those fifteen hundred souls dwelt not so much upon cities or spots or associations but upon streets. In a few days, they would see-not London, but Piccadilly.
And real streets, they were, to judge by their laudators! Round their hallowed names the dear fascinating English language, as spoken in the right little tight little island in all its nine and sixty dialects, redolent of, yet soaring above, the ill-disguised repression of our flat Canadian vowels and staccato emphasis, strove inadequately to express the emotions of those who spoke. The Strand, Leiceste r Square, Sauchiehall Street, Deansgate, Ludgate ’111, New Street and a million others—to hear about them you would think they were the golden-paved streets of the Book of Revelations. “Ten days from now, George, it’ll be me a-standin’ at ’Yde Park Corner a-givin’ the dames the once-over!’’ And, in a tone of unanalyzed awe, of the penitent at the sinner’s bench, he adds: “An’ yer remember that little ol’ pub at the corner of the 01’ Kent Road!”
When in the late dusk our ship slows down in the stream ■opposite Quebec to let the pilot (and me) climb down its side, and then slips quietly towards the east twinkling with lights and emotions, and our boat bobs ashore and I cross the Market Square and climb steep Mountain Hill to the Place d’Armes, it comes to me in a flash that there is only one street ip all this huge North American continent that excites its admirers to any lyric frenzy, and that is Fifth Avenue, New York.
AND why? Perhaps we are so large a country with so small a population that the amount of local patriotism is not enough to go round, or rather, to focus itself upon any few selected thoroughfares. Perhaps it is our careless way of calling a street out of its right name as “Main Street.” Out in the West, where a new metropolis is born over-night (sometimes, it must be confessed, with many symptoms of infantile paralysis) they have an engaging way of christening the highways of the future Chicago on a blue-print in the surveyor’s office, before the townsite is even laid out. The inevitable four streets that parallel the railway tracks are called respectively Railway, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Alberta Avenues, and the cross streets are called First, Second, Third, and As-Many-As-Necessary Streets. Such a method naturally tends to reduce any fondly anticipated Great White Way to a mere “Main Street.”
Perhaps our streets lack the historical tittle-tattle essential to becoming household words. No king, so far as I have been able to ascertain, was ever executed on any of them, nor paused to take one last long lingering look behind as he was swallowed up in some gloomy Traitor’s Gate. No Beau Brummel or First Gentleman of Europe seems to have surveyed our maple-shaded streets through a monocle and made epigrams. Perhaps we are too materialistic to care anything about our great streets except in so far as they provide asphalted paving for automobiles. Or perhaps it is merely true that absence makes the heart grow fonder, and that the Cockney, who in Canada exalts the Strand and Tottenham Court Road, is soon, in England, bewailing his exile from Yonge Street or Portage Avenue, and regaling all and sundry with the tale of their glories, fascination, and importance.
Still the fact remains that Canadians, essentially a street-loving people, fond of crowds and large groups, with hundreds of handsome, even noble, streets through which flows a traffic that is, I wager, much heavier per capita of the population than any street in Great Britain, know very little about their great streets. With all their fondness for concrete figures and their extremely retentive memory for statistics, especially statistics which suggest rapid growth, Canadians could not, as a rule, tell you which is the longest street in Canada, or the shortest or the widest, narrowest, or noisiest, or how many streets in Canada there are named King or Main.
Our streets do not lack historical associations. Look merely at their names! And there is this difference between eponymous origins of our streets and England’s in that ours generally mean something. What, for in-
stance, is "Piccadilly”? Where or who was it? How “New” are the many English streets of that name? Even the most obvious of London street-names, such as the Edgeware Road or Newgate Street,” simply mean that the road leads to Edgeware or that Newgate once stood on it. Whereas our Canadian streets are Sherbrookes, Dundases, Simcoes, Wellingtons, Yonges, or Notre Dames. History? Why, nothing better reveals the remarkable history of Canada than that it is in Ontario you find nearly all the Dundases, Simcoes,
Wellingtons, Adelaides, Brocks, Yorks and Bathursts, while it is in Quebec that you find most of the Notre Dames,
St. Pauls, Lauriers, Frontenacs, Delorimiers, De Salaberys, and Dorchesters. British Columbia has its Granvilles, its Hastings, and its Dunsmuirs, while the prairie cities have their Eighth Avenue and Third Streets.
If I had the time and the money, I would like nothing better than to visit every Canadian city and stand on its famous corner to watch the
on corner crowds. I have so stood on many of them—St. Catherine at Peel, King Street at Yonge,
Main Street at Portage, Granville at Hastings,
Sparks at Bank,
Eighth Avenue at First Street West,
Dundas at Richmond, King Street at Prince William, and King again at James; but there are so many others.
Is it necessary to say St. Catherine at Peel where, or Main at Portage which? I leave it to the editor of this magazine to let the idea sink in of starting a competition for those who can successfully supply the
most answers; in the meantime, let it be said that nothing so reveals the racial, political and economic characteristics and traditions of a city as its streets and its crowds. It would be psychically impossible for a Portage Avenue to exist in Halifax or a Place d’Armes in Moose Jaw.
Do You Know These Streets?
WHILE on the subject of this competition, could any of my readers tell, for example, where are any of the following Canadian streets, all of which are among the principal ones of their respective cities:—Barrie, Colborne, Charlotte, Church, Government, Hollis, Germain, Oullette, Pandora, Rosser, Bloor, Bleury, Cordova, Downie, Guy, Papineau, St. John, Wyndham, Cumberland or Great George? Where else besides Toronto is there an Adelaide Street, how many Front Streets are there in Ontario, how many St. Paul’s and Bridge Streets—in what cities, both ports, but on different oceans, are there found Water Streets? Is there another Ontario Street besides that found, somewhat unexpectedly, in the largest city in the Province of Quebec? Is there another Liberty Street besides that in the city of Quebec? To serve a useful as well as a moral purpose, such a competition could be made especially attractive to stenographer and mail clerks.
One thing I do submit is that the Committee of Conservation, or the National Geographic Board, or whoever it is looks after the matter of naming new mountains and creeks, should issue a mandamus against any more streets being called “King.” Three of them were mentioned above; but my researches into this subject, circumscribed as they admittedly are, have revealed no less than eight
others. There are King Streets to be found in Toronto, Hamilton, Kingston, Oshawa, Sherbrooke, Kitchener, Chatham, Brockville, St. John, London and Winnipeg —and doubtless in countless other cities large and small, to which apologies for their omission are hereby tendered, for this is an anthology of famous Canadian streets and not a catalogue. Similarly, there are at least five Simcoes, four Queens, six Wellingtons and three Dundases. Montreal and Vancouver have each a famous Main Street, (although the former’s correct name is St. Lawrence Boulevard) and so have five other cities in my list. But coming down on the other side, only Winnipeg and Vancouver seem to have availed
themselves of the possibilities of that fine old name of “Broadway.”
THE Geographic Board could, too, have quite a little quiet fun when it came to assemble the curiosities of street-nomenclature. It would find Winnipeg, for instance, rejoicing in a little coterie of streets named Lizzie, Emily, Kate, Gertie, and Ellen; Ottawa, as befits its political tradition, in at least three bearing the beatified names of statesmen, Laurier, Elgin and Gladstone; and Brandon perpetuating the loyalty of a past generation in Princess, Louise, and Lome. It would find London, Ontario, copying London, England, with an Oxford Street, Cheapside, Piccadilly, and Pall Mall. In the case of Halifax the Board could perform a lasting benefit upon humanity by deciding once for all the vexed question of where Barrington Street ends and where it becomes any of its various aliases of Pleasant Street, Lockman Street, and Campbell Road. But I fancy the Board would have the greatest fun in awarding the correct historical definitions. There is apparently only one Yonge Street in the whole of Canada; but who was Yonge, anyway? Who was Scarth, who has endowed Regina; Jasper, who has enriched Edmonton; or Sparks, who has graced Ottawa? Whence and whither was Spadina?
A Simplified System
THERE is certainly a lot to be said for the prairie system of just awarding a street a number, for it saves future generations explaining that the popular mayor or the goodnatured medical health officer after whom the local
Appian Way was christened turned out to be a four-flusher. On the other hand, of course, it is rather hard on the Stranger trying to remember that it is Eighth Avenue that is the principal street with the good stores, and not Seventh Avenue, which is devoted largely to Chinese laundries. The number of prairie cities which prefer to number their thoroughfares instead of naming them is large; some use the number alone, as at Saskatoon, others a combination of number and name, as at Moose Jaw. Calgary is the largest of these numbered cities, and has, apparently, the most successful system.
But Edmonton, not to be outdone by her hated rival for the supremacy of Alberta, a year or two back adopted a numbering system intended to put the fear of God into Calgary. Where its streets and avenues formerly bore names they now bear numbers, but the latter, instead of beginning at one, begin at One Hundred, and every innocent little house-number begins at 10,000, so that if you read 11,095 One Hundred and Fifth Street you think of the parallel of being in New York about ten miles above Central Park, whereas really you are about a stone’s throw from Edmonton City Hall. The ensemble is supposed to contain some dark, mystical significance carrying a complete picture to the mind’s eye of that particular house’s location; which may be true, but I am glad to see that Edmontonians still speak of their splendid and spacious main highway as Jasper Avenue and not 101st Avenue, although they do seem to have submitted to disguising that other fine name Namayo Avenue in 97th Street.
NOW for a few improving statistics. Yonge Street, Toronto, is said to be the longest street in the world— you remember the old gag about its being 46 miles long? Notre Dame Street, Montreal, might, however, challenge that modest claim so far as Canada is concerned, if the standard is merely the amount that lies within city limits, for Notre Dame runs east and west some thirteen miles without leaving Montreal once; and Montreal, instead of being only one city as everybody seems to think, is really a collection of so many independent municipalities, Outremont, Westmount, Lachine, and about forty other cities, towns, villages and parishes, that the Czecho-Slovaks and the Jugo-Slavs are simply nowhere in it where it comes to the self-determination of free peoples. Moreover, if it is true that Dundas Street, Toronto, continues right through to Dundas Street, London, what about it, Yonge?
. Which is the shortest street in Canada—meaning thereby one inhabited and corporeal—I leave to open competition. St. John offers King Street, but Quebec has quite a number of entries. But St. John is undaunted; it puts forward this same King Street as all at once the widest and the steepest street in Canada—some combination, if it were true, widest
steepest and shortest, and in a main street, too! As to width, I believe that Portage Avenue, Winnipeg, bears away the prize, and as to steepness, why, Quebec must have literally scores of streets that are positively Alpine. Never mind, King Street is a fine little street, and so far as I know it is the only main street that fishing vessels come and tie up to.
THE narrowest street nobody denies to Quebec in Sous le Cap Street, nor the oldest in Hebert Street. The most beautiful? Desperate slaughter may here be expected, as when the cow-puncher calls another that one single fighting word in the vocabulary; but for a real city street that isn’t in a garden suburb we cannot altogether ignore Sherbrooke, Montreal. That city has also in St. Catherine Street what is probably the most expensive street, by which is meant that one can spend the most money along it with the least effort. And then as to which is the most “Canadian”—well, it is rather paradoxical that the two Canadian cities which outwardly are the most “American”—Toronto and Vancouver—are temperamentally the most essentially British, and equally paradoxical that what might be thought the most “British”— Halifax and Victoria—are really not typical of very much of Britain. The most average “Canadian” cities are, I think, those patterned after the gracious smaller cities of western Ontario, such as Guelph or Woodstock.
It is difficult as well as invidious, this picking out “principal” streets. Every city of any size has several, varying greatly in temperament. Montreal, for example, has in St. Denis as important an artery as any hitherto enumerated, for through it throbs French-Canadian Montreal. In Quebec, similarly, one could select several “most famous” streets—quaint Sous le Cap, busy St. John, or the aristocratic Grande Allée; but really the most typical street of Quebec, the most eloquent of its Frenchiness, is not a street at all, but a board-walk—Dufferin Terrace, which has, I believe, the bright distinction of being the only legalized promenade in Canada. From this unprofitable subject of the best, we can turn to that of the worst. Which is the worst street in Canada? Which is the noisiest, the dirtiest, the worst paved? If Mr. Editor will kindly extend his competition to include this, he will be swamped with entries. Privately, between you and me, I know the noisiest street in this fair Dominion, although wild horses would not drag its name from me except to say that it is in Ontario, and that its noise, measured (as noise should be) at midnight, is not the dull roar of never-endingstreet-carsjumping badly-laid switches but the loud and ear-splitting cacophony of the wind rattling the maple trees.
Canada’s Main Street, I find from a charming little manual, has 14,923 grocery stores, 2,778 drug stores,
2,432 dry-goods stores, and 2,425 jewellers. The fact that there are only six times as many grocers as jewellers may perhaps explain why Victory Bonds are so much below par. How many Greek ice-cream parlors, licensed liquor dealers, public telephones, undertakers, and other instruments for adding to the cost of living there are I cannot ascertain, although it is comforting to think there are 324,000 automobiles in Canada, all of which have to be garaged somewhere and fed with gasoline, lubricants, and accessories. And then street-cars! No article such as this could omit those Ishmaels of our socialsystem. According to statistics, which do not lie except when you try hard, there are 72 cities in Canada with street-railways, with tracks totalling 2,274 miles, and 3,116 cars. Is every system reviled, I wonder? Is there none which is occasionally praised? It would be very difficult to name the slowest or the noisiest or the most inconvenient, because to be correct you would have to try them all, but there could be no hesitation in naming what, on general all-round principles, is the worst, for it is right there in your own home town. There is, of course, no “best”; a “good” street-car system is a contradiction of concepts.
T WONDER, too, if every good little Canadian city has A its own little municipal scandal, its bitter dissension between bitulithic paving and granoloid (whatever they both are), and its own little frenzied waves of municipal economy. It is a fascinating thought how one touch of nature makes the whole world kin. Seventy-four Canadian cities are said to have gas systems. I wonder if each thinks its own gas company is the rottenest and the most piratical—if each is secretly striving to fake its gasmeters in a vain attempt to “do” the company before the company “does” it?
This is a truly inspiring aspect of the great subject of Canadian streets, for think what there would not be if there were no streets! There would not only be no streetcars, paving, or gas works—there would be no street-corners, w'hich would be almost the same as saying that there would be no peek-a-boo blouses or short skirts. There would be no shop-windows and practically no temptations to spend money—which would flood the market with unemployed professors of economics and commissioners otherwise occupied in reiterating how the cost of living is going up. If there were no streets, where would the country boy go when he tired of hoeing the paternal turnips? If there were nowhere for the country boy to go to, where would all those articles be about the necessity for greater production—why, there would be no lawyers if the country boys all stayed home, and without lawyers there would be no political parties, and without political parties there would be sheer anarchy. So God bless the good old gas-works!