Queen Avenue honours Queen Victoria who ruled the Great Britain from 1837 to 1901.
Victoria became queen of England when she was just 18 years old. By the time she died, 64 years later, she was Empress of India and ruler of the largest empire in the world.
Her reign was the longest of any British king or queen and coincided with Britain becoming the most powerful country on earth.
The naming of Queen Avenue in Selkirk took place after her Golden Jubilee marking her 50th anniversary as queen in 1887. British colonies the world over celebrated their loyalty by naming something after “their” queen.
The Victorian Era
Queen Victoria was viewed as the “Mother” of the Empire. She was the symbol of British civilization and its moral leader.
Today, “Victorian” refers to styles of architecture, art, music, and most importantly, to behavior. Victorians were seen as being formal, loyal, obedient to the call of duty, brave and reliable. The British “stiff upper lip” in the face of danger, disaster or mayhem became a trademark for the peoples of English ancestry.
The land used for Queen Avenue had been reserved for the main line of the Transcontinental Railway in 1875. This reserved land was left empty when the Canadian Pacific Railway crossed the river at Winnipeg instead of at Selkirk. This route change destroyed the dreams of Selkirk investors who thought that with the main line of the CPR, Selkirk would become the new capital of the West.
In 1881, James Colcleugh arranged with General Rosser for a branch railway line to Selkirk along the west side of the Red River.
Part of the “CPR reserve” was used to give the new rail line access to the waterfront. That corridor is still visible from the north corner of Queen and Eveline today.
The rail line gave the fishing and timber industries a way to transport their products to market more quickly. These industries expanded in Selkirk. New saw mills, fish processing sheds and ice houses sprang up on Selkirk’s waterfront. The access to a railroad and to steamboats and tugs made Selkirk the main port for Lake Winnipeg. Passengers, freight and food for northern communities crowded Selkirk’s docks. Fortunately for workers in wharf-side businesses, the newly named Queen Avenue was available for housing.
Naming for the “stars”!
Naming a street after the “stars” of that era was a way to pay tribute to popular heroes. The naming of Queen Avenue expressed the love and admiration that citizens felt for Her Majesty! It conveyed positive emotions every time the name was mentioned! In Selkirk’s case, it was also a way to encourage people to buy lots on those streets. Living on such a street gave one a prestigious address!
Members of the royal family were often treated like movie stars! Their every visit, birth, death and dalliance was reported in widely-read newspapers. To mark a royal’s achievements was commonplace throughout Britain’s colonies. In Canada, buildings, streets, towns, provinces and geographic features carry regal names. (eg: Alberta, Queen Charlotte Islands, Charlottetown, and of course, Victoria).
Some streets were given names that were merely connected to the royals. Dorchester, Clandeboye, Dufferin, and Morris refer to the queen’s representatives in Canada or in Manitoba. These addresses attracted people to those streets by the association.
Some streets were named for the pioneer owner or benefactor who sold or gave the land to the town, perhaps even as a condition of sale. Walker, Young, Taylor, Robinson, McLean and Sutherland are examples of this.
More recently, naming after important people in the town’s development became a tradition in Selkirk. Mayors, community leaders and early investors have all received the honour of a street name.
Fame is Fleeting
On Selkirk’s first town plan, names were given that had great popularity at the time, but have since been changed. Two streets a little north of Queen that don’t exist today were Carnarvon and Cartier.
The Earl of Carnarvon was the British Lord who introduced the British North America Act into the British Parliament and thereby created Canada in 1867.
Georges Etienne Cartier was John A Macdonald’s right-hand man in Quebec. Cartier had promoted the union of British colonies to form Canada. He was credited with the peaceful negotiations that led to the annexation of Manitoba and the entry of British Columbia into Confederation.
Both men were heroes to Selkirk’s “founding Fathers”. Both lost their appeal shortly afterward.
Cartier died in 1873 so his accomplishments may have been overshadowed by later consequences from his policies. Carnarvon perhaps lost favour with Selkirkians when he resigned from British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli’s cabinet in opposition to giving the vote to working class citizens.
In the early 1920’s, Carnarvon’s son became famous when discovered King Tut’s tomb and then died, presumably of the “Curse of the Mummy”. The story of the more recent adventures of the Carnarvon family was made into the screenplay for the television series “Downton Abbey”. Scenes of the extremely popular television mini-series were actually shot on the Carnarvon properties.