What’s in a street name?

Sometimes, a wealth of history and heritage

Susan Flanagan susan@48degrees.ca
Published on November 26, 2013

Back in the 1800s, an Irishman named John O’Neill sailed out of Cork and settled in Newfoundland. He chose to build his house on a plot of land on Powles Peninsula which runs south from Trepassey to Powles Head at the mouth of Trepassey Harbour.

He called his new home Balnafad, a place far away, an appropriate name for two reasons. 1) O’Neill had moved more than 3,000 km from his homeland. 2) He had settled much farther down the peninsula than his closest neighbours on the back side of Trepassey.

Almost 200 years later, O’Neill’s great-great-grandson, Gary Hynes, a home builder and developer, named a street after his ancestor’s homestead near Trepassey. Balnafad Place is a long cul-de-sac dotted with well-appointed homes off Old Bay Bulls Road in Kilbride.

The surrounding streets are also named after places on the Southern Shore: Cape Race, Irish Loop, Tara and Myrick Place, which is named after the lighthouse keepers at Cape Race. And Long Beach Street is named after a resettled community near Mistaken Point from which Hynes’ mother hails. Long Beach is also supposedly the place which inspired Ron Hynes to write Sonny’s Dream.

The reason I’ve been investigating the origin of street names like Balnafad Place is because of a reader named Theresa Cook who wrote, “I would like to suggest street names as (a column topic) that would generate a lot of interest. Of course, many streets are named after family properties or public figures and such, but some just baffle me … e.g. Balnafad. It would be interesting to hear about how streets are named and who submits these names.”

So, for Theresa, I made some inquiries to Shelley Pardy, communications officer at City Hall, to find out what rules exist regarding the naming of streets. According to Pardy, there is not yet a written policy for the naming of streets in St. John’s. However, one is being worked on.

“A policy is currently in draft form and is under review by the (nomenclature) committee,” says Pardy. “As soon as it is approved by council, a copy will be released. … However, when determining names for new streets, the nomenclature committee takes into account special requests from residents to name the streets, for example, to honour a fallen soldier.

“Some areas within the city are named around a theme, for example types of trees, varieties of flower, a naval theme, etc. As well, sometimes the area/subdivision developer will make street name requests. Suggestions for new street names are referred to the nomenclature committee, chaired by the mayor, for their discussion and recommendation to city council for final approval.”

Gary Hynes, remembers when he proposed the street names for his sub-developments in Kilbride.

“You submit names to the city and they send them to the regional fire department. They have the final say,” remembers Hynes. “First, I wanted to call Irish Loop Place, Drook (pronounced Druke) Place,” he says. “But because there was already a Druken Crescent in Shea Heights, the fire department felt it might cause confusion.”

Former Telegram photographer Gary Hebbard successfully applied to get a street named after his father, who was the first person to fly a glider in Newfoundland. This was back in the late 1930s, and The Evening Telegram carried a story about him on May 12, 1938. Once the war started, Hebbard’s father went overseas and upon his return he went to Lester’s Field to retrieve the glider he had packed up and left in a makeshift shed.

By that time, the American troops had set up camp near Buckmaster’s Circle and nothing was left of the shed or glider. Where it ended up remains a mystery to this day.

So, now every time Hebbard drives down Cheyne Drive in King William Estates, he remembers his father when he sees Hebbard Place on the right.

“That’s his little claim to Newfoundland history,” says Hebbard, adding how happy he was when more than a year after he made his submission, he received the approval in the mail. “The opportunity was there to honour my father and I’m so happy someone somewhere approved it.”

Hebbard urges others who have something noteworthy in their family history to do the same, but be prepared to back up your request with documentation. Hebbard believes one of the reasons he was successful in his quest is because he presented two newspaper stories with his application.

“Anyone who wants to do this, gather as much information as you can,” he says. “Detail is a good thing.”

In the meantime, if you’ve always been curious, like Theresa Cook, about how an older street got its name, you can always pick up a volume of Jack White’s “Street of St. John’s.” Sometimes White did not give the origin of the name, but offers historical tidbits about the street. For example, for Flavin Street he gives no details on where the name came from, but does explain how it was nicknamed Electric Light Street when electricity generated in the Terra Nova Biscuit Co, powered the city’s first street lights there on Oct. 17, 1885.

“However … if the moon was bright, they didn’t turn on the new street lights. … By December of (1885) there were 54 electric lights in operation, going along Water Street as far west as the Dockyard and up Military Road to the Roman Catholic Cathedral”

(p. 24 “Streets of St. John’s”  Volume II, page 24, by Jack A. White).

For more modern street names, you can go to stjohns.ca and click on Quick Links on the right side of the screen and click on Publications. There you’ll find a tab marked History and under that City Archives: Street names, Monuments, Areas and Plaques.

It’s not obvious, so for those of you reading online, the link to the archive page is   http://www.stjohns.ca/sites/default/files/files/publication/Streets%2C%20Areas%2C%20Monuments%2C%20Plaques.pdf.

The explanations for all street names are not here and those that are, are not quite as colourful as those in Jack White’s books. For example, here’s the listing for Craig Dobbin’s Way:

Named by Council: October 23, 2006

Named for or location: Formerly Airport Terminal Access Road.

His Worship the Mayor advised that he had a suggestion, which was confirmed by the family, that the Airport Terminal Access Road be renamed to honour the late Craig Dobbin.

Located off Portugal Cove Road near the

St. John's airport; acts as an access to the St. John's airport.

I’m sure that Jack White would have written something to this effect:

Craig Dobbin’s Way — then-mayor Andy Wells is the one who suggested the former Airport Terminal Access Road be named Craig Dobbin’s “Way” as opposed to “Street.” Wells, along with anyone who knew Craig Dobbin, is well aware that Craig inevitably got his way and that now, even after his death, he can look down and laugh knowing that every person who sees that sign at

St. John’s Airport will always be reminded of his persistent nature that led to his success in business as well as other areas of his life.

Susan Flanagan can be reached

at susan@48degrees.ca.