The Odd History of Calgary's City Streets

Posted by on Monday, July 5th, 2010 at 9:40am.

**NOTE** This is a repost!  The former post has been lost in the ether.

If you’re entertaining visitors in Calgary and leave them to their own devices one day, it is not unlikely that you will come home to a complaint about all the weird street numbers and what idiot arranged Calgary into quadrants that are numbered individually so that they can’t find anything?  As you commiserate with your friends about the insane numbering system, you may wonder why Calgary is laid out like this.  We just can't have nice things.

It wasn’t always this way.  Until 1904, Calgary had names for all its streets.  An example are the maps here of the Downtown and Downtown East Village districts.  In the maps, you can see that Atlantic Avenue (bottom left, horizontal) is now 9 Avenue; 3 Street was once Dewdney Street (bottom right, vertical).  Interestingly, MacLeod Trail was apparently known as Drinkwater Street and Stephen Avenue retains its name while the avenues and streets around it mostly lost theirs.

Historic Calgary

  Image courtesy urbanphoto.com

Modern Calgary

 photo courtesy Google Maps

I have failed to find a reason why the street name change was proposed.  (*Update* I have found more information on this.)

It isn’t just the change to numbers that is confusing, but the decision to make Calgary streets and avenues suffixed according to quadrant, so you have to be careful of the NW, NE, SW and SE designations.  Another thing to be aware of is the fact that the Bow River dictates the placement of some of these routes, so taking the direction indication too seriously would be a mistake on your part. The center of the city is where the address numbers of all quadrants begin.

One explanation for the quadrants could be the Dominion Land Survey of 1871, which divided townships into quadrants: SE, SW, NW and NE.  This was mostly used in agriculture, which makes sense, as much of the modern city of Calgary used to be farmland.

401094768_fed061b24f_500

 Photo courtesy of bchow 

Some areas of Calgary, like Inglewood, have both the modern and the former names on their street signs.  This is great if you have a historic Calgary map and a desire to stay within the boundaries of the Calgary of 1900, but with today's modern designations and expansions, you're better off using Google Maps and a smartphone.  There is a movement to bring back the street names of a century ago, but it's slow going.

In the 60s, the mania for numbering streets and avenues gave way to giving them First Nations-related names like Shaganappi Trail and Sarcee Way.  The naming trend continued in later years with newer neighbourhoods getting street names that incorporated the first part of the neighbourhood name.  The tradition appears to be thriving today.  Taradale contains routes with names like Taracove Estates Drive, Taradale Close, Taraglen Road, Taralake Garden, Taralea Avenue, Taralea Blvd, Taralea Court, Taralea Mews and a whole host of other Tara- addresses that sound terrific on paper, but can be a little difficult for friends and family to wade through after 6 hours on a plane and in a rented car at 11PM on Sunday night. 

"Honey, we're trying to find this place with a map and a flashlight and there's a big crease through your neighbourhood, so we're having a bit of a problem finding the right Tara..."

Despite Calgary's sometimes confusing numbering system, you, your family and friends will get used to it and finding places will become easy.  Eventually.

Sources

UrbanPhoto.com: Calgary's Missing Street Names

CalgaryHeritage.org: Pre-WWI Street Names in Calgary Residential Districts

Wikipedia: Dominion Land Survey

Wikitravel: Calgary

 

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