By Mark McNeil, Hamilton Spectator
There is a lot of interest these days in James Street Art Crawls and Supercrawls.
But who was James, the guy for whom the street, and the crawls, are named?
If you think — because James crosses King Street — that it must be a nod to King James I, you would be wrong.
The street actually memorializes the son of one of the Hamilton’s early pioneers: Nathaniel Hughson. He was a United Empire Loyalist who moved here after being given a tract of land that stretched from present day Main Street to the bayfront, and from James to Mary streets.
Hughson — one street east of James — was named for Nathaniel himself. And Rebecca and Catharine streets were named after his daughters.
But since the time of Hughson two centuries ago, there have been hundreds if not thousands of streets, buildings, parks and land features to name. And as time goes on, as was the case with James Street, we sometimes forget who or what is being referenced.
So where can the curious-minded go to unravel the mystery of the names around us?
Well, here’s a new place — thespec-stories.com. As of today, the popular Namesakes feature that used to run in the paper has been captured in an online database made easily accessible with a map interface.
Within the database of more than 300 entries you’ll find the story about Randle Reef and how a sailor’s name became attached to one of the biggest toxic messes in Canada. You’ll learn about the Spectator reporter who became immortalized when a Burlington city committee ran out of names for streets in a new subdivision.
And did you ever wonder about the delightful name Terryberry, as in Terryberry library? You’ll find the answer to that question online too. And Jolley Cut? It sounds like a bit of whimsy but there was indeed a Jolley who built a cut down the Mountain.
Namesakes Online is also where you can check if you’re unsure about a name. Is it St. Lawrence Park or Sam Lawrence Park? As someone once noted many years ago when an error was made in The Spectator, “(Former Hamilton Mayor) Sam Lawrence was a lot of things. But a saint wasn’t one of them.”
And do you wonder about other city parks, like, say, Bayfront Park?
It sounds simple enough.
But how did its name come to be?
Twenty years ago, the city realized its wonderful new waterfront park had a confusing name. It was called Harbourfront Park, just like the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto.
So people in the community — through The Spectator — were asked to mail in suggestions for a better name.
Hundreds of ideas came in. Everything you could imagine, from Perri Park (remembering Rocco Perri, the gangster), to Bob’s Bathing Beach to Pud’s Point, a suggestion tenaciously put forward by Spectator columnist Paul Wilson to immortalize a longtime Hamilton Harbour police officer.
A three-person committee was appointed to sort through it, and this reporter (The Spec’s environment writer at the time) was on it. We locked ourselves in a room, and for hours went through all the suggestions.
It was exasperating. As quick as an idea was put forward by one judge, another would knock it down. Too hard to say. Too obscure. Too hard to spell.
We almost gave up.
Then I said, “Maybe we’re trying too hard. There’s a bay behind the park and Bay Street in front of it. Call it Bayfront Park.”
The other weary judges nodded in agreement.
Later the recommendation was put to city council, and it passed by a narrow vote.
905-526-4687 | @Markatthespec