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When There Were No House Numbers and No Directories

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When There Were No House Numbers and No Directories

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When one went to a store In Ottawa in the 1800s and bought something which was too heavy to carry home, one gave one’s address something like this, “I live on Clarence street, halfway between Sussex and Dalhousie streets. It is a white cottage set back from the street about 20 feet,” or whatever designation would make it easy for the parcel delivery man to find.

There were no street numbers then and no street directory. To help out, a good many people who could afford it had name plates of various sorts on their doors. But after all, finding somebody’s place wasn’t so hard as everybody in a block in those days knew pretty much everything about everybody else in that block and could direct one very quickly: “Fourth door from the corner on the other side of the street,” or “The big brown house in the middle of the block,” or “The little log house, whitewashed,” etc. Or it might be, “The frame house with the lilac bushes in front.”

Everybody’s place had some distinctive description, and the people in that period had to be trained to be observant of the distinctive marks of places, just as today a farmer can unerringly direct you to a certain farm by describing to you certain frontal appearances of the place. It Is all a matter of being observant.

On the other hand, when a farmer asks you where a certain person lives in town, you simply go to a directory or a telephone book and tell him the address or wherever he does live. The natives and the pioneers had to be observant. Their comfort and their safety depended on their observance of bush marks and landmarks.

The man who delivered goods also had to be observant. His ability to remember places and descriptions saved him a lot of hunting. In the fifties a considerable part of the population could not read and they had to have signs and descriptions to guide them. The stores provided signs for such and they were all signs indicative of the line of business followed in the store. There were signs of keys, clothing, saws, boots, hats, coal scuttles, and what not. The business streets were a mass of signs of every description. The man or-woman who could not read could at least detect the location of the sort of store he was looking for. Besides the signs, to guide the uneducated, were plenteous displays of merchandise outside every store door.

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Carleton Place Directory 1859

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