What's In a Name?

There is a lot in a name. This is particularly true when it comes to the names of the "Streets of Stratford". When the directors of the Canada Company in London, England, sanctioned the name Stratford for this river-crossing on the Huron Road in 1832, they set in motion a pattern that has greatly influenced the history and development of Stratford.

 Tiger Dunlop  Stratford-Perth Archives

Dr. William (Tiger) Dunlop, the Canada Company's warden of the woods and forests, was the man on the spot when and where Stratford was founded. A literary man, he probably had a lot to do with the naming of Stratford's streets. The first Canada Company superintendent was the Scottish novelist John Galt, whose successor was Thomas Mercer Jones. They may also have had something to do with the naming of Stratford. Both are commemorated by Stratford street names today. But no one deserves more credit for the founding of Stratford than Dr. Dunlop whose name appears on a street connecting Lorne Avenue East with Griffith Road West in the most southerly corner of the city. Not only did Tiger Dunlop blaze the trail for the Huron Road through Stratford, but he was one of the most fascinating and influential characters in the early history of the Huron Tract. While several books have been written about Dunlop, an author himself, the stories of his exploits would fill several more.

Many street names in Stratford flow from the original naming of the city. While not all of them have equal significance, many do reflect our heritage. This exploration of our street names, their origins and meanings, is by no means a definitive work, but rather a beginning towards a greater understanding and appreciation of this heritage.

The settlement of Stratford began with the surveying of the Huron Road by the Canada Company in 1828. In December of that year and January of 1829, their agent, William "Tiger" Dunlop, planted his surveyor's stakes around the area that was to become this beautiful city. The Canada Company had been formed in 1824, when the government of Upper Canada was granted a million acres of land to settle. The district was known as the Huron Tract and included what is now Stratford and most of Perth County.  

Stratford began to take shape in 1832 when Thomas Mercer Jones, a Canada Company director, gave a picture of William Shakespeare to William Sargint, the owner of the Shakespeare Hotel. A stone marks the site of this hotel, near 70 Ontario St. Jones gave the village the name Stratford and the creek, which had been known as Little Thames, was renamed the Avon River. In 1834, surveyor John MacDonald created the town plan. He placed the geographic centre of town at the point where four townships met, not far from where Erie and Ontario streets intersect today. He then created four main roads radiating from the centre and three of these roads were named for the Great Lakes to which they lead: Huron, Erie and Ontario. Following that, more streets steadily grew out and around those three streets. By Stanford Dingman

 John Mercer  Stratford-Perth Archives

The history of the streets is taken in part from a series of articles written by Stanford Dingman over a four-year period in the 1980s for the Stratford Beacon Herald. His articles are used from his weekly columns. Only out-of-date references were edited.  There was also a sequel published by the Beacon Herald in 2004 which added new streets. For this online publication, places and people of interest were also added to the streets. 

Stanford H. Dingman

Stan Dingman was a member of the fourth generation of his family involved in publishing a newspaper in Stratford. The era began with William Smith Dingman buying the Stratford Herald in 1886. It ended in 1999 when Stan and his brother Charles sold the Beacon Herald to Sun Media Corp. Stan Dingman was born on May 5, 1932. He would later recall how interested in local history may have come to him naturally from his father, Charles.

 "When I was a kid and we would go for a walk, he would see a street name and he would say, 'Do you know where that name comes from? " His dad would then tell him the story behind the name. "Most people live on a street all their life and don't know how it got its name," said Stan. That revelation stayed with him for about four decades before he turned it into a major personal project. By the 1980s, he was the editor and co-publisher of the Beacon Herald. As such, it fell to him to assist with the editorial

page. He soon learned that filling that page for the Saturday edition could be a challenge. The solution he found most appealing was a series of articles dedicated to the stories behind the city's street names.

He sought the advice and enlisted the help of  Jim Anderson, the Stratford-Perth archivist, who embraced the idea. "Jim would put ideas in my head, and I would start to tell stories," said Dingman. "There were lots (of streets) to work on. There was always another one. I just went alphabetically." At the time, there were about 260 stories to tell, running from Abbey Court to Youngs Street. Today, that number is north of 300. In each story, he presented the historical significance of the name of a street, whether local, regional, national or international. Initially, the stories were not long, but they grew as Dingman and Anderson unearthed more source material. As well, longer stories could fill bigger holes on the editorial page.

Dingman's long-running series was well received by Beacon Herald readers, and by the archives, and by those using the archives for research. But it ended about 25 streets short of completion because an illness in 1975 made it too difficult for him to continue. (The missing streets, as well as newly named streets, haven been added to this site). He officially retired from the paper in 1997.

In 2004, the newspaper published his Streets of Stratford stories in two supplements. Volume 1, 32 pages in length, came out on Jan. 29 and covered the street names from A to K. Volume 2, running 40 pages, followed on Feb. 24 with the stories about streets L to Y.  Publication of the supplements was dedicated to Stan Dingman. For his extensive contribution to the cultural heritage of Stratford and Perth County, he was recognized in 2006 by the Ontario Heritage and Trust. That contribution included his work with the Perth County Historical Foundation. He died on Sept. 1, 2007, at age 75. 


Many thanks to Dean Robinson for Stanford's biography in his book  Not the last waltz and other Stratford stories.  Photo is from brother Charles Dingman.

When were the streets numbered ?  See Streets by the Numbers