Weird And Wacky Canadian Place Names, Eh
As a Canadian living in Texas I am often asked about how to pronounce different place names from within my native country. Just as the United States has many place names derived from different languages, so does Canada. Often some of the most challenging place names found in the Great White North are actually First Nations languages in their relatively crude English or French rendition.
In this short trip through some of the weird, wacky and strange Canadian city and place names I have tried to avoid the names that are simply from another language, although there was one I just couldn't resist.
The Sign Says It All
The Atlantic Provinces
Known for their great sense of humor and outstanding love of life, people on the east coast obviously know how to take a joke with some of these names. There were actually a bunch to choose from but I stuck with these three.
Blow Me Down, Newfoundland – supposedly named by a very petite, 4 foot tall seagoing captain by the name of Messervay who first discovered the area. He was overwhelmed by the looming cliffs and mountains that surround this bay area and is reported to have said he hoped they wouldn't "Blow me down" if a wind came up.
Dildo, Newfoundland – there are actually two different towns, Dildo and south Dildo. One is larger than the other and that is all that needs to be said.
Ecum Secum, Nova Scotia – this name is supposed to come from a First Nations word that means red bark. It is pronounced Eecome Seekcome, which is actually kind of catchy.
Ontario And Quebec
Considered by eastern Canadians to be the cultural center of the country, somebody wasn't thinking straight when they named these areas.
Crotch Lake, Ontario – so named because the lake actually divides into two legs and appears to be the lower part of a human body when viewed from an elevated position. Crotch Lake is a favorite sport fishing location in Ontario with everything from walleye to bass. There are lots of cabins, fishing resorts and even upscale summer rentals. The lake has nine miles of shoreline and beaches for your enjoyment, no pun intended.
Bummer's Roost, Ontario – History has it that an Englishman by the name of Richard Mannering moved to the area in the early 1800's and lived with a fellow Englishman, trapper and construction worker by the name of Alfred Russell. Mr. Mannering didn't have any "woodsy" skills but he did help a bit on the trap lines, earning himself the nickname of "Dick the Bummer" since he was largely bumming off of Alfred. One day as a joke he made a crude sign that read "Bummer's Roost" and hung it outside of the tent. The name stuck and remains to today.
Ochiichagwebabigoining, Ontario – correctly written as Ochiichagwe'Babigo'Ining, this historic First Nations town is located within the Lake of the Woods area. It is near the Kenora District in Ontario and is part of the Ojibway Nation. I have no idea how to pronounce this name but it is fun to try!
Saint-Louis-du-Ha!-Ha!, Quebec – yes, the exclamation marks are part of the name. The exact origins of the name are not known but haha is believed to refer to an archaic French term that meant a sudden end or unexpected blockage. The Saint Louis may refer to one of several Louis's that were important in exploring, settling and naming different areas within the same geographic location.
The Onanole Wapati
Manitoba and Saskatchewan
Home to rural communities, larger cities, flat prairies and amazing outdoors adventures, there are some truly wacky names in these two provinces.
Onanole, Manitoba – this may seem hard to pronounce but break it down to its parts on – a – (k)noll. You got it - this tiny little town is located on the top of a hill, not too far from Riding Mountain National Park and the park's main tourist center of Wasagaming. This is actually the closest community to where my father was born and I spent many a summer helping him on our farm not too far from this town.
Flin Flon, Manitoba – Flin Flon is a unique city in many ways, not only in its name. It is the location of one of the major mineral discoveries in the province and is one city built almost entirely on granite rock. Basements of houses and buildings were and still are literally chipped out of rock and most of the original utility, sewer and water lines are above ground and covered with casings since it was just impossible to blast through the rock. The worst part about living in Flin Flon is your title of being a Flin Flonian.
Climax, Saskatchewan – this small border town was named because it marks the end of Canadian soil just north of the border, not for any other reason. Incredibly there seems to be a fair number of these odd sounding towns in the province including Biggar, Fertile and Nut Mountain, but I am not going any further with that!
Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan – this town was very progressive and in the early 1900s many buildings and houses where heated by underground steam tunnels. In addition immigrants, many Chinese people, lived in the tunnels in very impoverished conditions. During prohibition Al Capone used the tunnels to smuggle illegal bootleg liquor from Canada across the US border. In its heydays Moose Jaw was often called Little Chicago and was home to lots of illegal activities within those underground tunnels.
Alberta and British Columbia
The most western provinces, Alberta and British Columbia are my old stomping grounds.
Vulcan, Alberta – not named after Star Trek and not Spock's home planet, Vulcan is actually a thriving community on the prairies between Calgary and Lethbridge in the southern part of the province. It was actually named by a railway surveyor in 1915 after the Roman God of Fire although why this name was selected seems to have been lost. Regardless, the citizens of Vulcan have embraced the whole Star Trek concept and have developed a theme park based on the TV show and movies. They hold an annual VulCon Spock's Days Galaxyfest that attracts Trekkies from around the world. What a way to live long and prosper!
Tofield, Tees and Balzac, Alberta– these three small rural farming communities are only listed together so I could include this silly joke. It seems that an oilfield worker was rushed to the emergency hospital in Calgary. The nurse asked the fellow where he was from and what was his emergency. He replied, "I was born and raised in Tofield ( pronounced Toefield) and my toe has been cut off ". To which the nurse from Tees replied, "I bet you are glad you aren't from Balzac".
Valhalla Centre, Alberta - a small hamlet, home to about 60 people, Valhalla Centre was named by the Lutheran Pastor Halvar N. Ronning after the Norse legend about the home of the gods. This community, originally settled by Scandinavians in 1912, was the stopping place when coming over the Edson Trail. Surprisingly some of the original log homes are still standing in the community and the Ronning family home is now a historical site.
Salmon Arm, British Columbia – one of the major cities and tourists spots in the Shuswap Lake region, Salmon Arm is considered to be the Gateway of the Okanagan, one of the most picturesque parts of the province. The names, as you can tell, are largely derived from the names provided to the first settlers by the Shuswap Indians. It is so named because of the large salmon migrations up the shores of the lake as they move to their freshwater spawning creeks that feed the lake.
Clo-oose, British Columbia – located on the western side of Vancouver Island, Clo-oose is the English spelling of the native word for "camping sight" or "stopping place". There are less than 100 people living in this remote village and they are predominantly Ditidaht First Nations
Spuzzum, British Columbia – Spuzzum is a very tiny town that is located on the Trans Canada Highway north of Vancouver. The next town south of Spuzzum is Hope, so the joke is that if you live in or have been to Spuzzum you are beyond Hope. It is interesting to note that to get to Spuzzum you also have to go through Yale and a few miles further along the road you will go through Hell's Gate.
Thanks for reading and if you know of a place you think should be on the list, be sure to make a comment!