Whether you are driving, walking or taking the bus, you will see Merritt street signs everywhere. Most people probably pass signs for Voght Street or Nicola Avenue without a thought as they go about their day-to-day lives. Here is your chance to discover the stories behind some of the street names of our fair city.

Chapman Street James Chapman was born in Kerkcaldy, Fyfeshire, Scotland in 1836. He became a Nicola Valley pioneer when he settled in the area in 1871. He established the Chapman Ranch, located in the Collettville area. His wife was the mother of the first white child born in the area in 1873.

Charters Street Another two of Merritt’s early pioneers, John and William Charters arrived in the Nicola Valley from Liverpool, England in 1868. They bought acres of ranchland and William became the owners of one of the largest ranches in the area. During his lifetime he accumulated considerable wealth, a large portion of which was the result of selling some of his land to the coal mining companies that were sprouting up during the coal boom of the early 1900s.

Cleasby Street Harry S. Cleasby was born in Durham England in 1868 and became an early settler in the Nicola Valley in 1887. In 1902, he bought the Alexander Coutlee ranch in Coutlee, west of Merritt.

As an active member of the community, he became the first chairman of the Merritt school board in 1907. Cleasby was a member of the Hospital Board, president of the Board of Trade and, for 44 years, he was the Secretary of the Nicola Valley Rancher’s Association. He was also an enthusiastic Nicola Valley historian.

Garcia Street. Jesus Garcia was born in 1832 in Mexico. When he was 13, he left for California and worked as a packer, using mules to haul ore from a silver mine to a smelter.

He arrived in the Nicola Valley in the 1870s. For many years, he operated a freight service to the Cariboo and brought cattle and burros over the Coquihalla Pass into the Nicola Valley. He eventually settled in the valley in the 1870s, owning a ranch which later became part of Merritt. Garcia died in 1916 and left an estate worth about $100,000.

Gillis Crescent John Joseph Gillis was born in Prince Edward Island in 1881. Doctor Gillis opened a medical practice in Nicola Valley in 1911 and was well-respected in the community. He took part in the opening ceremonies of the Nicola Valley Hospital in 1912, then went on to become Merritt’s Mayor in 1928. Gillis was also involved in organizing one of the first fox farms in the Valley. The current Gillis House in Merritt is named after Dr. J.J. Gillis in his memory.

Granite Avenue Granite City was a gold mining centre on Granite Creek in the Nicola Valley. In 1893, the Tulameen Valley was booming with surface gold mining and Nicola was the main distribution point for this area.

Granite City later became an important platinum mining area as well. Although Granite City has disappeared, the area is still of interest to the gold and platinum miners.

Nicola Avenue. Merritt’s main street is named after the village of Nicola. The name ‘Nicola’ came from a famous First Nations chief who lived in the valley. Chief Nicola’s real name was “Nwistes-Meekin,” which translates as “Walking Grizzly Bear,” but the French speaking fur traders gave him the name Nicolas. He was a great chief to his people and was one of the most important men in the valley when the lakes, valleys and rivers were being named.

Quilchena Avenue Before white people came to the valley, there was a small village named Quilchena on the edge of Nicola Lake. It was the most northern village of the widespread Nicola Band. The name Quilchena means “a flat place near water”.

Voght Street William Henry Voght, one of B.C.’s oldest and most esteemed pioneers is known as the “Father of Merritt.”

He helped establish the first school in the valley and served as Chairman of the first school board and then secretary-treasurer. He took part in the efforts towards the incorporation of Merritt, but died in 1911, just two months before it was official.

For more information on the history of Merritt and the Nicola Valley, call or come and visit the Nicola Valley Museum and Archives. You can also visit our website at www.nicolavalleymuseum.org.