Driving along southbound Crowchild Trail in southwest Calgary you’ll see a green exit sign for a road running adjacent to Mount Royal University. Its name is Richard Road.
But how did you just pronounce that name in your head?
For many, it would be Richard, like Nixon, Branson or Little. Little Richard, that is.
But to some Calgarians, that’s using the wrong emphasis. The wrong accent, if you will.
The debate over that road and its pronunciation resurfaced recently on CBC Calgary airwaves when a listener challenged the pronunciation of Richard Road.
He argued — quite stridently — that it is pronounced using the French emphasis.
And the reason for that, the Calgary Eyeopener listener wrote, is because it was named in honour of Maurice “Rocket” Richard, an iconic Montreal Canadiens winger who played from 1942-1960.
This isn’t the first time this has been pointed out to CBC Calgary. A mere mention of the road’s name has elicited similar calls to the station’s traffic line for years.
So what is the origin story of this road in Calgary? That question is not easy to answer.
Richard Road’s past naming controversy
Between the City of Calgary’s archive department and an online archive of printed newspapers in Alberta, there are a few early mentions of Richard Road.
In 1970, when the city was considering names for future development in the area where Richard Road is now, there was actually a bit of controversy on the Calgary Planning Commission.
In notes from the commissioners’ report on March 4, 1970, council approved two street names for what was formerly the Royal Canadian Air Force Station Lincoln Park: Richard and Richardson.
What made headlines at that time, however, was not the names that were approved, but one that was shot down that day: Richthofen.
As in Manfred von Richthofen, known as the Red Baron, a famous First World War German fighter pilot.
One headline from the Calgary Herald on Jan. 22, 1970 reads “Richthofen Bombs As Street Name.”
Former Calgary alderman Roy Farran is quoted at that time saying, “We have the greatest respect for the Blue Max and the Red Baron and all that. But really, they were on the other side.”
The article also points out that the name Richardson was chosen to honour a prominent figure in the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede at that time.
No reason for submitting the name Richard was noted in either the newspaper clippings or the city documents.
CBC News could find no mention of a connection between Maurice Richard and Richard Road in the online archives of the city’s two major dailies between 1940 and the present day.
In the 1970s, when the discussion over naming streets in this area was happening, Calgary did not yet have an NHL team. Maurice Richard retired in 1960. There is no monument. No documented ceremony.
Adding to the mystery, there were notices posted in the pages of Calgary newspapers in the early 1950s advertising lots for sale on a “Richard Road” in nearby Knob Hill for $1,050.
Quite a bargain, even with inflation.
According to city archives, the Lincoln Park Community, where Richard Road sits, was developed in the 1950s and 1960s. Some wonder if the road’s name has a military connection, given its location.
I don’t think we can ever know for sure unless someone who was there comes forward to set the record straight.– Lynn Bullock, City of Calgary archives
“The road may well have been named by someone who lived in the area prior to development or by the RCAF who occupied the area during the Second World War and until 1964. There would have been married quarters as well as the base itself,” wrote Lynn Bullock with city archives in an email to CBC News.
Bullock said it is also possible the city’s planning department renamed some streets in 1970s (at the time of the Richthofen controversy) but she added: “I don’t think we can ever know for sure unless someone who was there comes forward to set the record straight.”
What’s in a name
At the public library, there is a book that ties Rocket Richard to Richard Road.
That book was published in 1995, called What’s in a Name … Calgary: A look at the people behind place names in Calgary.
In it, author Donna Mae Humber wrote that the area near where Richard Road sits was originally planned as a subdivision called Richmond Park.
“When the major streets were being named, the city’s planning department was looking for something different than the standard English-sounding names, and decided to name a street after a prominent French Canadian,” she wrote.
“They chose Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard (pronounced “Ree-shard”), who played hockey for the Montreal Canadiens from 1942 to 1960 he held the record for the most goals scored in regular season play.”
CBC News reached out to Humber to inquire about where she learned this story and, after this article was published, she got in touch.
Humber relayed she came across the story of Richard Road in a single newspaper article she found in the Glenbow Museum’s archives.
“It was really hard finding information back in in 1994 … but I did a lot of digging … and I found an article that was about Richard Road and that’s what they called it,” she said, using the French emphasis.
Humber is amused the mystery of the road’s inspiration has persisted.
“I just have to laugh because, I don’t know, does it really matter?”
Local historians Harry Sanders and Heritage Calgary’s Josh Traptow haven’t unearthed any evidence of that information anywhere else, and neither has the city archivist.
Richard White has written extensively on urban development in Calgary and, based on his own research, he leans toward the anglicized pronunciation of Richard Road.
“I mean, there was the armed forces bases there. There would have been many individuals from Quebec and Montreal, Canadiens fans, but I don’t know that there’s any real substantiation,” he said.
White, however, likes the story of Rocket Richard, even if he has his doubts.
“I think it’s just a bit of a folklore,” he said. “It makes for a great story.”