Kate's blog

What's in a (Street) Name?

The Town of Innisfil includes a number of small but vibrant communities spread throughout its more than 280 square kilometre expanse, and both the founding and some of the distinguishing features of each of these communities can be traced back to the pioneering families of the nineteenth century. Thanks to things like land ownership records we can often pinpoint the lot or address of where these families established their homes, but sometimes these records are incomplete, missing, or never existed in the first place. This is when my job gets most interesting!

Doing historical detective work to uncover where a photo was taken is difficult but extremely rewarding. There’s something incredibly satisfying about being able to match up a person or family’s legacy with the piece of land or home in which they lived. It establishes roots and foundations in a world that seems to change in the blink of an eye. Occasionally the process is as straightforward as looking up other family members and reading to find mentions of a family home or lot, but other times involves using aerial and satellite photos to match land or building features to those in a photo.

Sometimes I get extremely lucky and spot a small side street bearing the name of the very same family I am looking to place. Take for instance Guest Road off Big Bay Point Road, or Wisker Avenue between Belle Ewart and Lefroy, which are both well-known family names from Innisfil. Thanks to this helpful nomenclature I was able to apply much more accurate geographic coordinates on many of the photos of the Guest and Wisker families - including that of Dora, Cora, Lyall, Rex, and Mary Guest in front of their family home in the photo above! These are just two examples of many more scattered throughout Innisfil.

So what really is the value of a street name? Historians have long used place names for everything from following migration patterns to deducing the role of a particular area in a larger community. Place names tend to change infrequently and thus they often become relics of the past. Sometimes they are our only evidence of the people that came before us. Street names are similar, and in smaller communities it is much more likely that a street be named for a local family or the type of trade or business that occurred on it. Of course, it is not unheard of for streets to change their names, as I’m sure many of us remember when Molson Park Drive in Barrie became Mapleview Drive, but we lose a small piece of history whenever this happens.

Think about the name of the street where you live or grew up. Do you know the meaning behind its name? The history may be forgotten for now but the street will remain, just waiting for a curious mind to find it and uncover its hidden memories.