You know when someone does a juice cleanse and it’s all they want to talk about? That’s kind of how Dr. Israel Powell was about Canadian Confederation.
He was a man obsessed, helping broker the deal to get B.C. in the mix, bringing a Canadian flag out West for the first time and instigating the original prime minister bromance with Sir John A. Macdonald. Everyone else was probably all, “Yes, I’m sure Confederation is good for the economy and gets rid of toxins, but we’re trying to build a railroad here. Can we talk about this later?”
So you can see why the guy—for whom Powell Street and Powell River were named, because he was an incredibly accomplished man in addition to being a Canada fanboy—decided in 1888 to name some streets after his top crushes, the seven provinces of the Great White North.
He arranged them in geographical order, west to east—(British) Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, (Nova) Scotia, (New) Brunswick, Prince Edward (Island)—with a brief interruption for the pre-existing Westminster Avenue, which later evolved, like some sort of brewery-themed Pokémon, into the Main Street we know today. Ontario Street was placed in the middle of the pentagon-shaped zone that was Mount Pleasant, dividing the east side of Vancouver from the west, because it represented Central Canada and, therefore, as any Torontonian would tell you, the centre of the universe.
When Alberta, Yukon and Saskatchewan joined Confederation several years later, city council tried to squeeze the newcomers into the neighbourhood—but unfortunately, three was a crowd, and Saskatchewan Street wasn’t included. I imagine if you were paying by the letter for your street signs, it wasn’t a hard cut to make. As a concession, a small stretch of land up by Marine Drive was appointed Saskatchewan Avenue in 1908, but just seven years later it was changed to the much snappier “West 72nd Avenue.”
Then, for basically a century, we just all pretended there wasn’t a huge trapezoid-shaped hole in our lives . . . until a few years ago, when both Sask and Nunavut both got lanes to call their own, north of 70th Avenue.
At just a block each, they’re perhaps not as fierce a declaration of love as Dr. Powell would have made were he still with us, but better than what we’ve done for Newfoundland and the Northwest Territories, which are still conspicuously absent from our maps (but not our hearts).
Question submitted by Wes Lord. Originally appeared in the January 2017 print issue of Vancouver Magazine.
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