Posted by: Cornwall Community Museum | June 1, 2017

Glengarry Place names, by Ewan Ross

In reviewing the Museum’s holdings on Glengarry County history I found this article  on Glengarry Place Names by Ewan Ross in 1973.

He wrote:

Perhaps the most interesting thing about place names is trying to put oneself in the position of those who gave the names in the first place, and asking why they called it “This” instead of “That.”

In Glengarry we find an interesting mixture of reasons for the place names, be they the original ones given by the French to the principal features before the Loyalists arrived in 1784, or the names given by a people homesick for their native glens in the first half of the 19th century.  It must be borne in mind that, no matter where a Scot may roam, or how tough he is in a fight, he always has in his heart a touch of homesickness for the “Hills of Home.”  To this must be added a sardonic sense of humour.  This makes him name a place for a defect, if possible.  Thus we have in Glengarry a “Stony Hill,” but nothing resembling a “Fertile Valley.”  The Scot is at his worst when he has to pick a formal name for a post office or a new village.  Then he loses his romantic touch along with his sardonic humour, and comes up with something ponderous, though decorous.

Over the time that Glengarry has been settled, names have been given to almost every road and crossroads and hamlet, as well as to springs, creeks, swamps, etc.  Sometimes these have changed with great frequency,as, for instance, the present hamlet of South Lancaster.  It began as “The Falkner Settlement,” after the Loyalist family that drew land at the east side of the mouth of the Raisin River.

A World War I era postcard showing the wharf at South Lancaster.

The Imperial Postal Service established a Post Officer here in 1816 under the name “Lancaster”.  When the Grand Trunk Railway went through about a mile north of the hamlet that resulted in Lancaster Post Office moving to the railway.  South Lancaster became Riviere Raisin Post Office from 1865 to 1881.  For some years in the 1870s and ’80s, it appeared ion the maps and was widely known as “Kirktown” because people said there were more churches than people in the place.  But the local people solver the name problem in their own way.  After the railway went through, to them South Lancaster became the “Lower Village.”  In 1973 it still is.

Much the same tale can be told of MacCrimmon or MacCrimmon’s Corner on Highway 34 in the north of the County.  MacCrimmon is a salute to a common name in the community, but over the years it has had sex names — Crasga Bheutanartch; Ate Brogelein; Barrett;s Corners (after a storekeeper of that name); Kingsburgh Post Office from 1877 to 1879 and then changed to MacCrimmon.  However, most of the local people call it “The Tannery,” which is logical as there was once a tannery there.

The name “Glengarry” itself is an example of the Scots remembering their native land.  In Gaelic a glen is a mountain valley almost always with a stream at the bottom of it.  “Garry” is an English version of the Gaelic “Garidh” which means “rushing water.”  There are no mountain glens with rushing streams in our Glengarry, but from The Glen of the Garry in Scotland came the MacDonells, of whom two brothers were elected to represent the area in Governor Simcoe’s first Legislative Assembly at Niagara-on-the-Lake in 1972.  At this Assembly the first counties were named, and John MacDonell (Aberchalder) and his brother Hugh apparently had no difficulty getting the name of their home glen in Scotland adopted for the first county in Ontario.  (Upper Canada)

The townships (Charlottenburg, Kenyon, Lancaster, Lochiel) were named before the County, with the exception of Lochiel, which remained part of Lancaster until 1818.  It is still common to hear old residents speak of the 14th of Lancaster when they refer to the 5th of Lochiel, and so on.  George III was Duke of Lancaster before he became king, and the Falkners who settled east of the mouth of the Raisin were from Lancaster in England.  So “Lancaster” in its name shows both loyalty to the Crown and remembrance of the Falkner’s old home.  However, when Patrick McNiff surveyed the front of the Township in 1783 – 84, he called it the ‘Lake Township.”  Apparently the French in what is now Soulanges County already had a name for it when McNiff arrived – Le Canton Enfonce, which came into English as “The Sunken Township.”  And they were right.  Parts of the southeast of the township are actually below the level of the river, and much of the rest of the first 5 concessions is very little above it.  In the early days of settlement it was a vast swamp.

Glengarry can count Lancaster, South Lancaster and of course North Lancaster as seen on the 1898 postmark on the document.

At the time of the first settlements, several Royal Ladies, including George III’s Queen, were name Charlotte.  So, while the surveyor called the present “Charlottenburg” Township No. 1, loyalty prevailed, and a Scots’ settlement grew up in this township with a German name.

Space calls a halt, but I hope there is room for my favourite place name in Glengarry, “Drowned Baptist Creek.”  This is the Delisle River at Dominionville, where in times past there was a strong Scots Baptist congregation surrounded by Scots Presbyterians.  These latter took a great interest in the baptisms by total immersion which their Baptist neighbours practised in the local creek.  The story is told, though it almost is certainly not true, that one Sunday as the Baptist minister was baptizing some of his flock, assisted by an elder of his congregation, that one candidate stayed under water so long he drowned.  The minister said to his elder, “Brother, the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.  Pass me another.”  True or not, there are still people in Glengarry who speak of “Drowned Baptist Creek.”

There are some hundreds of place names in Glengarry, many with a story.

In the 1973 annual report of the Glengarry Historical Society our secretary noted that Glengarry today is almost equally divided between French and English speaking people, almost half of who are bilingual.  This led me to think of what we in Glengarry, and for that matter, in a great deal of North America, owe to the French, who as traders, trappers and missionaries pushed their way further north, west, and south each year in the 200 years before the Loyalists came in 1784.

To the French we owe the fact that, though it was a wilderness the Loyalists came, it wasn’t completely unexplored wilderness.  Its principal features and possibilities were known and at least roughly mapped.  When the townships along the St. Lawrence were surveyed in 1873 – 84, they were surveyed as part of the Province of Quebec.  It wasn’t until 1791 that Upper Canada was created, stretching west along the St. Lawrence from M. de Longueil’s seigneury which ended at the mouth of the Riviere au Bodet.

When Patrick McNiff led his survey parties into the bush on the north shore of Lake St. Francis in the fall of of 1783, his superiors furnished him with a map, which showed him how they wanted the lots laid out in relations to three known (at least to the extent that they were known to be there) physical features – the mouth of the Bodet, Lake St. Francis, and the River Raisin.  This sketch map also shows us that the course of the Raisin was not known, as it is shown to come down from the direction of present Highway 34, rather from the west as it does.

These three reference points are still with us under their original names, though the usual spelling of them has changed somewhat, partly owing to the widespread use of English in the area.

Who gave these names and when?  Prior to 1685, the French had named all the St. Lawrence system after Saints, as is shown on Franquelin’s map.  Lake Ontario was Lac St. Loius, Lac St. Francis, Lac St. Pierre and the St. Laurens were as they are now, except in Ontrio we use the English spelling today.

The name St. Laurens originally applied only to the Gulf, and was called by Jacques Cartier who anchored in it on St. Lawrence’s day, August 10, 1535.  As the waterway was explored the name crept up the river, and on maps in the 1600s we find the river labelled “grand Fleuve du Canada ou St. Laurens.”  As we know St. Laurens won out.

Another French name in daily use is River Delisle.  There are two possibilities about the origin of this name.  It may have been named for a famous French geographer of his time, Sieur Gabriel Aubert DeL’Isle, who was a friend of the Marquis de Vaudreuil (1698 – 1778), the last French Governor of New France.  Or it may have been named because of the island at is mouth, “La Riviere de la Grande Isle.”

Another name from French days that we still use is Pointe Moulille, today a game preserve near the east side of Lancaster Township.  As the name implies, it is a wet place, a marsh.

The Rigaud River which drains a large part of Lochiel into the Ottawa is a name that has been in use in Ontario only for the last 40 years.  Then the LaGraisse River which the local people called “The Grass River” had its name changed in Glengarry to conform to the name it bore in Quebec, where it empties into the Ottawa.

Rigaud was the family name of the Marquis de Vaudreuil, whose two sons had a seigniory along this river at and near its mouth.  La Graisse means oil or fat.  Does this refer to the “fat” agricultural land it drains, or were there oil slicks at one time?  Maybe there is oil under Lochiel!  At one time there was a south La Graisse Post Office at the north corner of lots A and 1 in the 3rd of Lochiel.  (1869 – 1880).

There were other French names on the old maps of what is now Glengarry.  All of these have gone completely out of use.  In some cases we are not sure just where they were, but where possible we’ll link them with today’s name:  Pointe aux Herbes just east of South Lancaster; Pointe du Lac, now Glengarry Point; Raisin Isle, now Cairn Island; Pointe Raisin, now South Lancaster; Pointe a la Traverse, now Farlinger’s Point; Riviere a la Traverse, now Gray’s Creek; Marandier Pointe in 23 -1, Lancaster, so called after a friend of Vaudreuil’s; Pointe Chene, now Graveyard Point, and likely so called because oak trees grew on it.

And last but not least, the interesting Isle au Morpion.  There seem to have been two island s called; one rock south of Pointe Mouillee; the other possibly the present Clark Island south of 16 – 1, Charlottenburg.  La morpion is the English crab-louse, or slangily, some one who is the type that might have them.  I wonder what the story is behind the name?

Still want more?  There are lots.

It is now time to look at the Scottish influence on our place names.

Surprisingly few of the place names we have today are of pure Gaelic origin.  For instance Williamstown was known among the early settlers as “Muileann Sir Ian” and its straight English translation is Sir John’s Mills which was in frequent use in the early 1800s.  Later this became ‘Milltown” which a few people still living can remember being used.  But the official name of the post office in the place was always Williamstown.

Postmarks:  Williamstown, Canada West, 1855; and Lancaster, Canada West.

Another place with a similar story is Alexandria.  One of the last things Rev. Alexander MacDonell did as priest at St. Raphaels was to build mills on the Garry for the benefit of the settlers in the north part of Lancaster Township and the newly formed Lochiel.  The place was known to all and sundry of the Gaelic speaking folk as “Muileann an-t-saigart” which most of us will have heard of by its English translation “The Priest’s Mills.” Alexandria, which also comes from Father Alexander’s name was the name given to the post office that was opened there in 1825 just six years after the mills began to operate.  Though the author has never seen a document of any sort datelined “Priest’s Mills”…he can recall his father saying he was going “to the Priest’s Mills – Alexandria as they call it now.”  But the old man was born in 1852 and remembered away back when Alexandria was the Priest’s Mills and Glen Roy was Sierra.

Muileann a chamaronich on the Delisle River is Lochiel…Two Gaelic names that probably go back to the days of the first settlers are Glen Falloch and Laggan.A postmark from Laggan, 1892.

Both names are names of localities in Scotland to be sure but in both cases the names do describe the places in Glengarry.  Glen Falloch means “the hidden glen” and anyone who drive along the Kinloch Road and turns into the almost hidden Glen Falloch Road will appreciate the term ‘hidden Glen”.  He will appreciate it more as he drives toward the Nine Mile Road and takes note of the fine farms hidden from view until one is close to them.

Laggan in Gaelic means “a dimple” or by analogy a low spot in the ground.  Anyone who drives through Laggan even today at the time of the spring break-up can get some idea of how low the ground is and how it must have appeared to the first settlers before it was drained.

A great many of the place names in Glengarry that begin with “Glen” were given to their localities many years after they were settled.  Glen Sandfield started out as plain “Sanfield” so called after the Sandfield MacDonalds who owned a lot of property in the area.  It became Glen Sandfield when the post office was opened there in 1874.

Glen Robertson started out as Charley Roy’s Corners and became Glen Robertson in 1874 the same year as Glen Gordon got its post office.  Glen Gordon post office was about half a mile north of the railroad crossing we know as Glen Gordon today and was apparently so called after a place in Scotland in the homelands of the MacLennans and MacLennans owned all the land around the newly established post office – and I do mean all around – north, south, east and west.  (Belden Atlas, 1879.)  Glen Donald has a similar story.  Its post office opened in 1874 and its first post master was Alex MacDonald on whose land it stood.  And he had MacdDonells for neighbours.  In fact the whole are was full of “the sons of Donald” by whichever spelling.

It may be of interest to know that this is all the different names amount to.  It was a clerk’s error back in 1660.  Angus MacDonald chief of the branch of Clan Donald who lived in Knoydart supported Montrose in the war that ended with Charles I being beheaded and when Charles II regained the throne for Stuarts he rewarded Angus by creating him “Lord MaDonald and Aros.  The Gaelic pronunciation of the name is don-ell and the clerk who knew no Gaelic so he spelled it as he heard it, on Angus’ title deeds.  As a mark of distinction the MacDonells of Glengarry have maintained this spelling ever since.  Today it is often pronounced as it is spelled but the old folks pronounced MacDonald and MacDonell exactly the same.  Many still do and it quite possible to start an argument in Glengarry about it even now.

For a short time the post office at Lochiel – Quigley’s Corners was named Glen Jmes after its first postmaster James Benton.  The area south of Williamstown where the Carnation plant is today is still known as Glendale but this name apparently came into use as a trade name for the first cheese factory established there about 1885.  But this place did have an early Gaelic name “Gleneirre.”  The records of the meeting to establish a public school in the area are datelined “Gleneirre.”  The derivation of this name is interesting as it too consists of a phonetic rendering of a Gaelic term.  Among the Loyalists  who got land in that area was certain Sgt. Hay.  And he became a prominent citizen of the area so the Gaelic speaking folk spoke of the area as Gleann Fheoir Hay’s Glen in English.  But in Gaelic “fh” is always silent when a word is pronounced and in time Gleann Fheoir became Gleneirre – just as it sounded.

How many remember hearing of Father Hay, for many years a much loved priest at St. Mary’s in Williamstown – he was a descendant of Sgt. John Hay who gave his name to the area.

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