Friday, December 28, 2012


Previously I have written about navigation in Edmonton, and how easy it is to find nearly any given address using the street grid. But there's a funny quirk about the grid.

In cities in Central Canada, such as Toronto or Montreal, there is a dividing line running down the centre of the city which neatly divides it into east and west, or perhaps into north and south. In Toronto, the line is Yonge Street; in Montreal it's St Laurent Blvd. So an address on Bloor Street East in Toronto, for example, is on that part of Bloor Street which is to the east of Yonge Street. Similarly, an address on Ste Catherine Street West in Montreal is to the west of St Laurent Blvd.

Not so in Edmonton. My office address is on 103 Street NW. But that doesn't mean that it's on that portion of 103 Street which is to the north-west of some dividing line. Rather, in Edmonton, the NW refers to the quadrant of the city rather than the direction from a specific line. There are in effect two meridians in Edmonton dividing the city into four quadrants. But the east-west meridian was placed far to the south of the city and the north-south meridian far to the east. So, with a few exceptions such as a rail yard in the North-East quadrant, until recent growth of the city beyond the meridians virtually the whole city of Edmonton was (and still is) in the North-West quadrant. So in fact, for many addresses, it's irrelevant that the address is in the North-West, even if NW is technically part of the address.

As I mentioned before, Streets in Edmonton run North-South and Avenues are East-West in direction. They are numbered sequentially (more or less) from the meridians, which would be street or avenue number zero (where there is in fact a road on the meridian). Streets and avenues in the same quadrant of the city are both labelled NW (or NE, SE or SW). So where in other cities you might have a corner of X Street W and Y Street N, in Edmonton you have the corner of, say, 103 Street NW and Jasper Avenue NW. Sometimes there are gaps in streets or avenues. For example, it's not possible to drive in a straight line along 101 Street from end to end. Instead there are several 101 Streets, or several pieces of 101 Street, depending on how you look at it. But if there's a street along that part of the grid, it's called 101 Street. And the street address will give a quick guide to which piece of the street you're looking for, whether the bit between 48 Avenue and 45 Avenue, or the next bit south between 42 Avenue and 39 Avenue (NW that is). (An address on the first section would be between 4500 and 4800, whilst an address on the second bit would be between 3900 and 4200.)

Some streets, obviously, cross the meridians, so for example 111 Street SW is the southern continuation of 111 Street NW. And 167 Avenue NE is the eastern continuation of 167 Avenue NW. But here's where things get confusing. There is a 17 Street NW and also a 17 Street NE. But these are not continuations of the same street across a meridian. These are two very separate streets 34 blocks apart and parallel to each other. That's where the quadrant reference becomes essential to finding an address. Because without it, you wouldn't necessarily just be at the wrong end of a street, you could be on the wrong street entirely, many blocks from the correct street.

There are some natural barriers to the growth of the city to the east (the city of Sherwood Park) and the south (the airport), but as long as numbered streets remain in vogue in the newer parts of the city in quadrants other than NW, the quadrant reference will become increasingly important as the city of Edmonton grows.


  1. Of course, Calgary has always had a quadrant system, and it is very important there to know whether the address is NW, SW, NE or SE. Until very recently, Edmonton did not need quadrants---the centre of town historically being Jasper (101) Avenue and 101 Street (using numbers for streets and avenues goes back to the amalgamation of Edmonton and Strathcona in 1912, when many of the existing names were duplicated in the two places). Now that Edmonton has grown beyond 0 Street and 0 Avenue, quadrants are necessary----but I still have trouble writing the quadrant on an Edmonton address without automatically wanting to then put "Calgary" for the city. Old habits die hard.

    1. Thanks, dpj, that's a very informative comment. Interesting that numbering would be a solution to duplication of street names. I don't think Montreal has yet figured out what to do with its post-amalgamation 11 (I think) Victoria Streets, or its several 1ere rues.

    2. The system for numbering buildings in Edmonton also differs from that in Calgary. In Edmonton, the numbers of a building start just after the cross street/avenue. So if a building number were, for example, 10010 - 99 Avenue, one would just drop the last two digits of the building number to get the cross street---100th Street. So the building in question is on 99th Avenue, just past 100th street. So long as a street/avenue is numbered, one can know from the building number precisely where it is in the city---and even numbers are on the west side of a street; odd numbers are on the east side of a street; even numbers are on the north side of an avenue; and odd numbers are on the south side of an avenue. By contrast, in Calgary, the numbers just after Centre Street and Centre Avenue start at 100. So the numbers of building BEFORE 1st Avenue on 1st Street SW are in the 100s. This means that one arrives at a particular building number one block sooner than one would do in Edmonton.

    3. Fascinating! I wonder if Calgarians think they're always a block ahead of Edmontonians.

      Also an interesting illustration of the fact that certain underlying assumptions in any system can be quite arbitrary without affecting the fundamental integrity of the system, such as whether one drives on the left or right side of the road, or as in the case, how the civic numbers are reckoned with respect to street numbers.

      Personally I think Edmonton's system is easier, but that may be simply because it's the system I live with.

  2. I always found the number system for addresses in Edmonton very helpful in finding places in the city.