Street names: the stories behind the signs

Anecdote, urban legend, sometimes even myth: we don’t usually associate such descriptors with the street map of our city, but there is a story behind each and every street name we encounter in our daily navigations.

And with over seven thousand of them now in use, there is a rich store of narrative to be revealed by exploring the history behind Ottawa’s street names. They are a unique insight into what the builders of our city held most dear, and a lens through which we can see how our civic culture has changed and adapted since Bytown was just a village straddling the last set of locks on the Rideau Canal.

The names themselves come from many sources: history, the sciences, celebrities, geography, and even pop-culture.

Over the next few months, we’re going to delve into the meaning behind some of our street names, both familiar and obscure. We hope to uncover a few surprises along the way.

In the meantime, if you have a suggestion or two for streets whose names you’ve always wondered about, let us know — we’d love to do some digging for you.


  1. Great idea. Hope you delve into Preston Street. Named, if I’m not mistaken, for Miss Isabella Preston:

    I see her hybrid lilac’s around the city still. “United States authorities considered the hybrid worthy of species rank and named it Syringa X Prestoniae in her honour.”

    Have yet to see or maybe better to identify any of her lilies named after stenographers at the experimental farm, thought – just kidding:

    Here’s a picture of her:

  2. This looks like an interesting project. I am involved with a similar project organized by the Council of Heritage Organizations of Ottawa for a new, soon to be launched, website.

    Might you be interested in potentially collaborating?

    Contact me for details, etc.

  3. It’s a nice thought that Preston Street was named after the famous Isabella Preston who came to Ottawa in 1920. In fact, Preston Street appears on 19th century maps of the town and was apparently named after George H. Preston, who was an Ottawa city councillor in 1858 and 1860, perhaps city treasurer, and a dealer in boots, shoes and leather. (Source: Ottawa Citizen February 11,1986)

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