What’s In A (Place) Name?

Otonabee_ Ladies sitting by water

Have you ever wondered about the source of a lake, township, or community name? Origins of place names can be obvious, less obvious, obscure, or unknown.

Their sources may be descriptive, based on natural or man-made features, or may derive from the names of landowners and prominent citizens, other towns or cities, indigenous words or phrases, myth and literature, or in honour of non-residents (such as monarchs, aristocrats, government/political figures, military leaders, etc.). The Peterborough region has all of these, so let’s investigate a few.

Several names have First Nations roots. Otonabee comes from the Ojibwa word “odonimaseebi” which means “mouth water”, describing the delta where the river flows into Rice Lake. Chemong (“tchiman” meaning “canoe”, for the lake’s shape), Catchacoma (“Kitchigoma” meaning “big lake”), and Kashagawigomog (“long, narrow, winding waters”) also are based on Ojibwa names. Katchawanooka is a Mississauga name meaning “place at the top of the rapids”, while Omemee was the name of the Mississauga sub-tribe whose traditional hunting grounds included that community. The Hiawatha First Nation reserve was named during the 1860 visit of Britain’s Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), and was taken from the 1855 Longfellow poem The Song of Hiawatha.

The communities of Fowlers Corners, Young’s Point, Mathers Corners, Flynn’s Corners, and Nelson’s Falls (later called Lakefield) were named for the families who first established them. Coe Hill was named for William Coe who developed an iron mine there.

Northumberland and Durham counties were named for their English counterparts, while Hastings County honours the distinguished soldier Francis Rawdon-Hastings, Marquess of Hastings (1754-1826). Haliburton County was named for the author Thomas Chandler Haliburton who also headed the Canadian Land and Emigration Company that owned one million acres of settlement land in central Canada West.

Peterborough County is not without quirky place names. Buckhorn and its nearby lake, river, and falls were all named to celebrate founder John Hall’s extensive collection of antlers (i.e. “buck horns”). Asphodel Township was called that for the many lily-like flowers that grew there – and apparently in reference to the Asphodel Fields of Greek mythology.

Submitted By: Don Willcock
Peterborough Museum and Archives, 300 Hunter St. E., Peterborough, 705-743-5180

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