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Familiar place names can have unexpected and undetermined origins

It was sad to hear of Gordon Lightfoot’s death May 1 at age 84. It got me listening to his music again. A passage from The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, based on a shipping tragedy on Lake Superior, caught my ear: “The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down, of the big lake they called Gitche Gumee.”

The Chippewa, also known as Ojibway, are a more easterly tribe.

Yet there is a Chippewa Road in 'The Properties at Maple Bay’ wedged between Salish Road and Haida Road, reflecting two BC Indigenous groups.

How this happened is a mystery to me, but perhaps one of you has the answer.

At any rate, it made me wonder about our local place names and their origins.

Below is a random list of names taken from BC’s official Geographical Names website.

I suspect the office has a small budget and a long list of names to investigate and update. It’s working on it.

I haven’t included all the listed sources, but you can find them at .

For local Indigenous names and words, the Quw’utsun Hul’q’umi’num 'category dictionary' is available at the Cowichan Tribes office.

Also, check out the ever fascinating Facebook page of Jared Qwustenuxun Williams: .

Subscribe to T.W. Paterson’s Cowichan Chronicles: . He’s written the book, A Place Called Cowichan: Historically Significant Place Names of the Cowichan Valley.


Ladysmith: “This town, which came into existence in 1900, was named 1 March 1900 by James Dunsmuir (proprietor of the neighbouring coal mines), after Ladysmith in South Africa, when he heard of the relief of that town the previous day after a long siege. In turn, Ladysmith in Natal, South Africa, was founded in 1851 and named after Lady Smith, wife of Major General Sir Harry Smith, governor and commander in chief at the Cape. Lady Smith (1798 - 1872), née Juana Maria de los Dolores de Leon, lineal descendant of Ponce de Leon, the Knight of Romance, belonged to one of the oldest of the old Spanish families.”

Crofton: “Henry Croft was prominently associated with the development of the Mount Sicker mines. Born in Sydney, New South Wales, 1856; educated at Rubgy school, England, and afterwards entered the profession of civil engineering. Arrived on this coast in 1882, and engaged extensively with a partner named Severn in the lumber business at Chemainus, then known as Horseshoe bay, carrying on an export as well as local trade; MPP, Cowichan district, 1887; the sawmill with the business at Chemainus was sold in 1888 to the Victoria Lumber and Manufacturing Company, Ltd, and is known as the Chemainus Saw Mill.”

00:00 / 01:04

Duncan: “Named after William Chalmers Duncan, whose farm, Alderlea, was located here in the 1860's. Duncan was born 1836 in Sarnia, Ontario, arrived in Victoria in May 1862 and was one of a party of one hundred settlers that Governor Douglas took to Cowichan Bay in August that year. When the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway was opened August 1886, the level crossing near the late William Duncan's farm was named Duncan's Crossing. The following year E&NR opened Duncan's Station at the crossing. Mr. Duncan's original holding forms a large part of what is now the city area. William Duncan's son, Kenneth, became the first mayor of Duncan.”

Westholme: “After the completion of the E&N Railway in 1886, Captain C.E. Barkley, RN (retired) took to walking over to the little station at Hall's Crossing and handing his letters to the mail clerk on the train when it stopped there. Neighbours began asking the captain to take their letters also, and soon the postal authorities [supplied him with a mailbag.] When a post office was opened, Captain Barkley was appointed postmaster and the post office took the name of his house, Westholme, in which it was located. According to a grandson, Captain Barkley named his house Westholme because it was his 'home in the west' but it may have been the name of a family property in England. In 1909 Captain Barkley perished when a smaller house to which he had recently moved was consumed by fire. This Captain Barkley was, incidentally, a grandson of Captain C.W. Barkley, who in 1787 discovered and named Barkley Sound.”

Genoa Bay: “Named by Giovanni Baptiste Ordano, after his birthplace in Italy. He arrived in San Francisco aboard a schooner, where he jumped ship, acquired a small boat, and proceeded north by himself, landing in this bay. He did a bit of fur trading and soon became very successful, building a store, hotel and saloon at Cowichan Bay….”

(Photos: Genoa Bay, and Crofton from Maple Mountain)

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— Larry Pynn, May 16, 2023


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