A Brief History of Street Names

We’ve been getting new street signs in Prescott. They’re brighter, cleaner, and feature the Town’s renewed logo: “PRESCOTT, est. 1784, THE FORT TOWN”.

New Signs_Prescott_2016

While there are a couple of 19th century dates related to the establishment of Prescott – 1810 (the date of the Town’s first official survey) and 1834 (the date of its incorporation) – 1784 is the year Loyalists headed up the St. Lawrence River, and Prescott’s Founder, Major Edward Jessup, completed the location of the men who had served England as members of Jessup’s Rangers. According to Thaddeus Leavitt (1879) “When peace was declared in 1783, large tracts of land were granted by the Crown to the officers and men, who accompanied by their families, in the spring of 1784, proceeded up the St. Lawrence in a brigade of boats, thus commencing the settlement of Leeds and Grenville, Addington, and the Bay of Quinte.”

Town of Prescott_1861-2

A comparison of the map that was published in HF Walling’s 1861-62 Map of the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville with the streets of Prescott today, reveals little change to the layout of the Downtown in the last 150+ years.

The earliest North American streets tended to be named, as follows:

  • For topographic features like Water Street
  • For references to the street’s position like East, Centre, and West streets
  • For symbols of authority like King and George streets
  • For the founder or landowner like Jessup, Edward and Dibble streets

Also popular were using landmarks like Church or Market, or the name of the town to which a street led. In the 1850s, as towns and villages grew and house styles changed to the picturesque Gothic Revival, it became important to recognize connections to the natural environment, and new street names tended to focus on names of trees with Oak being the most popular, followed by Elm and Maple.

During the late 19th century the percentage of “surname” streets soared, but the “surname” street that captures my imagination in Prescott is much newer. Here’s the story behind Fischl Drive…

Louis Fischl arrived in Prescott in 1939, having abandoned his glove factory in what is now the Czech Republic. In the Ottawa Citizen (July 4, 1952), Fred Inglis asked Fischl why he’d come to Prescott. “Why?” he answered, “because Mayor John Horan came to my room at the Windsor Hotel in Montreal, and wouldn’t take no for an answer.”

Andry-Farcy Poster

Born in the glove capital of the world – Grenoble, France – Louis Fischl learned his trade there, built a factory in pre-war Sudetenland, and travelled worldwide throughout the 1930s, lining up discerning customers such as the T. Eaton Co. of Canada. Fischl’s niece, Hanna, arrived in Prescott along with other family members, and thanks to a diary she eventually published in 2002, we have an insightful account of her incredible journey.

Hanna Fischl Spencer

Hanna’s Diary 1938 – 1942: Czechoslovakia to Canada is the story of leaving one’s life behind and starting anew in Canada. A Czech of Jewish descent, Hanna was a 24 year-old teacher when Nazism began spreading over Europe. No longer able to associate openly with Hans Feiertag, the talented, Christian composer whom she had loved since her teens, she began writing a diary. The account tells of her trip to England and then to Canada, where, as a young immigrant with a PhD, she worked, in Prescott, at her uncle’s glove-making factory before landing a teaching job in Ottawa, getting married, and eventually joining the University of Western Ontario as a German professor.

From The Prescott Journal (October 2, 2002), here are a few entries from Hanna’s Diary in 1939…

“SUNDAY, 18 JUNE: We went to church today, the United Church of Canada. In order to qualify as Canadian immigrants we had to declare ourselves un-denominational. I had no problem with that. I never did feel particularly Jewish.

SUNDAY, 20 AUGUST: A reporter arrived. Made a great to-do about me. Story that appeared in the local newspaper was headlined: “PhD Happy Making Gloves”. Bit of an overstatement. I don’t exactly rejoice at sitting behind a sewing machine from 8 am to 6 pm with an hour off at noon, literally glued to the chair with perspiration while fending off mosquitoes and flies, and trying to cope with a machine that won’t work.

SATURDAY, 9 SEPTEMBER: Dear me, what a celebrity I have become through the article in the Recorder and Times! Several days in a row, strangers have come to the office and asked to see “the educated lady”. I was called out to meet them and didn’t know what to say.

WEDNESDAY, 8 NOVEMBER: Uncle Louis returned from Ottawa with a surprise for me. Grinning from ear-to-ear he reported that the much-feared Mr. Blair of the Immigration Dept. had asked him if he would agree to my giving a talk in Ottawa. Two days later, I was invited to address the junior branch of the League of Nations Society in Ottawa, Nov. 25, and the Business and Professional Women’s Club invited me to speak at a luncheon the same day.”

In addition to his own family, it is said that “Uncle Louis” helped more than 200 Czechoslovakian and Italian Jews avoid persecution by bringing them to Canada as expert glove makers.


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