Glengarry Place Names Part 1

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Circa 1975
By Ewan Ross 1922-1987


Goderich, Ontario

Perhaps the most interesting thing about place names is trying to put ones self 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 "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.

In the 190 years that Glengarry has been settled, names have been given to almost every road and crossroads 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. The Imperial Postal Service established a Post Office here in 1816 under the name "Lancaster." When the Grand Trunk Railway went through About a mile north of the hamlet in 1855., it started a northward migration of the hamlet that resulted in Lancaster Post Office moving to the railway. South Lancaster became Rivierre Raisin Post Office from 1865 to 1881. For some years in the 1870's and 80's, it appeared on the maps and was widely known as "Kirktown" because people said there were more churches than people in the place. But the local people solved 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 six names -- Crasga Bheutanarch; 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 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 1792. 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.

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 a remembrance of the Falkners' 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 Enfoncé, which came into English as '?The Sunken Township." And they were quite right. Parts of the south-east of the township are actually below the level of the river, and much of the rest of the first five concessions is very little above it. In the early days of settlement it was a vast swamp.

At the time of the first settlements, several Royal Ladies, including George III's Queen, were named 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 certainly is 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 still are people in Glengarry who speak of "Drowned Baptist Creek."

There are some hundreds of place names in Glengarry, many with a story. More of these stories are to follow.

Glengarry County Place Names
Glengarry Place Names part 1 by Ewan Ross
Glengarry Place Names part 2 by Ewan Ross
Glengarry Place Names part 3 by Ewan Ross
Glengarry Place Names part 4 by Ewan Ross
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