City roads know all the angles
You ask... We answer.
Q: After having lived away from St. Catharines for many years in other Canadian cities and cities in other countries, I’ve recently returned. I’ve come to realize a couple very peculiar things about the streets and houses in
1. Why was the standard British grid pattern of east-west and north-south not used in St. Catharines? The east-west is northeast and south-west, causing the grid to be diamond shaped. Other streets cut the grid at odd angles causing multi-point intersections. There are other cities like Toronto where they also have lakes that effect the east-west layout and they still stuck to the grid in those. How did it come off the rails so badly here?
2. Why are the houses frequently angled to the street, as opposed to the standard way of having houses be parallel to the street? I’ve never seen anywhere else where the houses are frequently oriented to the streets at angles.
A: Search Engine turned to historian Brian Narhi for an explanation of why the city’s roads run on angles.
Narhi wrote the grid of roads in St. Catharines dates back centuries in some instances, which accounts for some of the peculiarities.
The oldest streets and roads were originally used by Indigenous people as routes across the peninsula, either between the lakes or to and from the Niagara River. Those routes were then used by the first Euro-Canadian inhabitants and formed part of the early transportation network in the 1780s.
In the late 1780s, Niagara peninsula was surveyed into townships so the Crown could grant land to Loyalists who settled there after the American Revolution.
Townships were laid out in lots and concessions and fronted on Lake Ontario, which has a lakeshore at a north-east angle.
Grantham, the township which now forms much of St. Catharines, was 23 farm lots wide and contained 10 concessions as well as a ‘broken front’ concession along the lake — broken because the lakeshore cut into the land and created an irregular strip or range of lots.
Narhi said the surveyor had the choice of running the concessions at right angles from the west but that would have created several concessions with a small number of lots.
However, by running the concessions parallel to the lakeshore, there would only be one broken front of lots across the entire width of the township.
As a result, the concessions in Grantham were surveyed at an angle of 65 degrees and the farm lots were shaped like parallelograms.
The concession roads ran north-east to south-west. Today they’re known as Parnell and Linwell Roads, Scott and Carlton streets and Welland Avenue, as examples.
Other streets in St. Catharines that weren’t part of the original 1780s grid but still contain unusual angles were created when land was later subdivided. Some were constructed to avoid manmade obstacles such as the railway or old Welland Canals, such as Secord Drive which follows the line of the Third Welland Canal.
Narhi said subdivisions built in the 1950s, 60s and 70s become creative with winding street layouts that created more visual appeal and park-like settings.
Narhi suspects the reason some homes in the city were built on an angle rather than facing the street partly reflects the old survey grid but also was done to eliminate the “stiff Victorian aesthetic” of rectangular lots on straight streets.
“In cities such as Toronto and Hamilton, this created entire blocks of houses (such as Toronto's Annex) which rigidly adhered to the survey, the streets literally becoming tunnels between the residences on either side of the street,” he said.
Houses on Carlton Street between Vine and Geneva Streets in St. Catharines are built on an angle from the road.