The intersection of Commercial Street and the old Island Highway as it looked in 1956. (Nanaimo Museum photo)

Street names pay tribute to Harbour City’s pioneers

Some streets are a nod to history, others are head scratchers

Bryden, Bing Kee, Farquhar, Franklyn and Fitzwilliam streets have something in common.

Aside from being some of the oldest streets in Nanaimo, they are also a few examples of streets named after some of the Harbour City’s earliest settlers.

Jan Peterson, author of A Place in Time, a book that examines the history of streets and various areas throughout Nanaimo, said most of the streets in the city’s earliest neighbourhoods are named after some of the earliest and more prominent residents.

“Some of them were Hudson’s Bay people and some of them were people form the Vancouver Coal Mining and Land Company, that was the mining company at the time and they were the people who developed the town site and gave the names to the place,” she said.

According to Peterson’s research, Franklyn Street is named after Captain William Hales Franklyn, who was an appointed magistrate in Nanaimo, and Fitzwilliam Street is named after Charles Fitzwilliam, the second chairman of the Vancouver Coal Company.

Peterson said another street that pays tribute to a former coal company employee is Bryden Street, which is named after Joe Bryden, a Scottish miner who immigrated to Canada in the mid-1800s and eventually wound up marrying Elizabeth Dunsmuir, Robert and Joan Dunsmuir’s eldest daughter.

Bing Kee Street is named after a wealthy businessmen originally from Guangzhou, China named Mah Bing Kee. According to Peterson’s book, he owned and financed a handful of businesses in Nanaimo during the 1800s.

Peterson said there was absolutely no recognition of the First Nations people when it came to street names in the early days of Nanaimo.

“It just didn’t happen,” she said.

Today, Nanaimo has become slightly more creative with its street names in some respects. Some of the more curious names, which have attracted the attention of major websites like BuzzFeed,

include Buttertubs Drive, Twiggly Wiggly Road, Dingle Bingle Hill Terrace, Jingle Pot Road and Giggleswick Place.

In some neighbourhoods in Nanaimo the streets tend to follow a theme or pattern. Streets around Dover Bay Secondary School are named after various birds or mythology. Around Departure Bay a number streets follow a medieval theme, an area around Long Lake has streets named after gems and the Brechin area has several streets named after types of trees. Protection Island has its pirate-themed street names, the result of former Nanaimo mayor Frank Ney’s creativity.

If there is one consistency throughout Nanaimo’s street names, it’s to do with female names. There are more than 30 streets that have a common female first name throughout the city and regardless of the neighbourhood there is likely to be a street with a female name like Christina Crescent, Emma Way, Jasmine Place, Tamara Drive, Sandra Road, Elizabeth Street, Stacey Crescent, Gail Place and Janelle Place.