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Canadian Transport Sourcebook > All works> The Thunder Bay Historical Society > Place Names in the Vicinity of Fort William by Miss M. J. L. Black


By Miss M. J. L. Black.

In searching for the original Indian place names, and the meaning of the present Indian names, I am indebted to the Rev. Father V. Renaud, S.J., and to Mrs. Nellie Corbett, both of whom gave me much information, and also to Mr. John Duncan Mackenzie, who checked their notes over for me. Other information I have picked up from various sources, and though I have tried to keep it authoritative, I cannot guarantee it. I give it for what it is worth, and because it is all of local interest.

City of Fort William commemorates William MacGillivray, one of the leading members of the North West Fur Company, who directed the construction of the fort on the Karninistikwia River, as the company's headquarters, instead of Grand Portage in Minnesota. Apparently the move began in 1801. Building went on in 1802 and 1803. In the latter year the fort was completed, but dwellings had still to be erected. Daniel Harmon notes that there were a thousand laboring men here in July, 1805. He calls it "The New Fort" (see Coues, New Light on the Early History of the Great North West, page 222). A letter from George Monk, dated Leach Lake, April 18, 1807, refers to "Fort William." William MacGillivray succeeded Peter Pond as a partner in the North West Company about 1790; he was a member of the House of Assembly, Lower Canada, June 18, 1808, to October 2, 1809, for Montreal West; member of the Legislative Council, Lower Canada, 1814-1825, October 16, on which date he died in London, England. (Report, Geographic Board of Canada.) The site of Fort William was discovered by Duluth in 1679, when a trading post was established. After this was abandoned, there was nothing here until La Noue rebuilt it, or built it on the same site in 1717. This post had long been abandoned and forgotten by the time of the change from the French regime to English rule in 1763. The X.Y. Company had a post here in 1804. It is referred to by Alexander Henry, the younger. It was situated about a mile up the river from the North West Company's post. The latter post was taken over eventually by the Hudson Bay Company, when the two companies amalgamated in 1821. The Hudson Bay Company had a depot at Point De Neuron in 1816, under Lord Selkirk.

Fort William's future was assured in 1875 (though it was not incorporated until 1892), when the first sod was turned for the Canadian Pacific Railway. The following are the dates of the first and best known subdivisions: Blackwood addition, January, 1875; First McKellar addition, July, 1875; Oliver Davidson and Co., July, 1876; First McVicar addition, January, 1885; Hudson Bay and Canadian Pacific Railway additions, February, 1890; St. Paul's addition, August, 1890; First Wiley addition, August, 1902. The first Vickers addition was registered in June, 1875, but was cancelled in May, 1879. The present Vickers addition was registered in July, 1904. (See also West Fort William.)

Algoma. Lake and lands of the Algons, or Algonquin Indians. The Indians received their first treaty from Queen Victoria in 1850. After they signed the treaty they gave up their rights, and now call the district Agema-Ekaw-Oge-Baw-o-ning, meaning Queen's Landing. (Mrs. Corbett.)

Miss Stafford says that Algoma means the Unknown, or Hidden.

Animikie. The name applied to Mount Mackay, and Thunder Cape (meaning "Thunder" ), but really quite modern; it is much used by geologists, and refers to the silver-bearing formation of Lake Superior.

Assiniboin. Chippewa word "asin" meaning "stone," "upwaw" meaning "he cooks by roasting," hence, "one who cooks by the use of stones." (Hodge.)

Athabaska. Forest Cree word, "athap," meaning " in succession," "askaw" meaning "grass," hence, "grass or reeds, here and there." (Hodge.)

Beaver Mine. Discovered in 1884, and worked for three or four years. Very rich in silver; in 2½ months $93,000 was produced in smelting ore and concentrates. (Geological Survey, 1887.)

Brulé Bay. Etienne Brulé reported the discovery of Lake Superior in 1618. (Parkman.)

Caribou Island. Alexander Henry, the elder, in 1771, found caribou on the island.

Chippewa. An adaptation of Ojibway, meaning "to roast till puckered up," referring to the puckered seams on their moccasins. (Hodge.)

De Meuron Point. Portage point for the early fur traders. The Swiss mercenaries, engaged by Lord Selkirk, wintered here in 1816. Buildings were put up by Selkirk, for the H.B.C., but were abandoned on the union of the North West Company with the Hudson Bay Co. in 1821. The De Meuron regiment was formed of Swiss, Germans and Piedmontese who had been forced to act as conscripts in the army of Napoleon. They subsequently served in the British army under Colonel De Meuron, and being disbanded at the close of the Peninsular War, a number of them joined the Earl of Selkirk as settlers in his new settlement in the Red River country.

An added interest, associated with Point De Meuron, is the fact that in 1872, Lord and Lady Milton spent a summer at this point, and, there, was born the present seventh Earl FitzWilliam. Prior to this visit, Lord Milton had made two extensive trips through western Canada, the account of which is contained in that most interesting book, the title of which is "The Northwest Passage by Land," by Lord Milton and Dr. Cheadle.

Dog Lake. "Animosaigaigun" meaning "lake shaped like a dog." (Mrs. Corbett.) This lake takes its name from the huge effigy of a dog outlined in sand, which is still to be traced on the high terrace over which the portage to the lake passes. This is said by the Indians to have been left by the Sioux when they abandoned this section of the country for the west, as a lasting reminder to the Ojibways of their scorn of them. (Geological Survey, No. 678.)

Duluth City. Originally Fond du Lac. The explorer's name is frequently written Du Lhut.

Fort Frances. Named after Lady Frances Simpson, wife of Sir George Simpson.

Enterprise Mine. On Black Bay. Discovered in 1865 by Messrs. Peter and Donald McKellar.

Gargantua Cape, Harbour, River. Named after Rabelais's giant, sometime before 1760. Applied originally to a rock near the shore. (Report, Can. Geog. Bd.)

Grand Portage Route. This was discovered by Jemeraye, nephew of La Verendrye, in 1731. Grand Portage, of the French and English fur traders, was primarily the designation of the long carrying place, over which baggage was taken on men's shoulders, from a point near Lake Superior to a point on the Pigeon River, nine miles distant, but it speedily became the name of the place on the lake. The situation is about 47° 58' N. Lat., 89° 39' W. Long. by U.S. charts, on Grand Portage Bay (too shallow for vessels to land, and separated by Hat Point from Wauswargoning Bay), in which is the small Grand Portage Island. The most conspicuous object in the vicinity is the hill, now called Mount Josephine, 703 feet high. The North West Co.'s establishment there, before and after 1800, was a stockaded post, 24 x 30 rods, on the edge of the bay, and under the hill; it was long a famous rendezvous of the Northmen who assembled sometimes to the number of more than a thousand. It was abandoned in 1803. The X.Y. Co.'s post was built in 1797, about 200 rods from that of the North West Co.'s, across a small stream that flows into the bay. Fort Charlotte was the N.W. Co.'s post at the other end of the portage on Pigeon River. The Ashburton-Webster Treaty of 1842 stipulated that the route should remain common to both countries, and should be free and open; so presumably British citizens to-day would be entitled to demand the unobstructed use of the ancient trail over the Grand Portage. (See Story of the Grand Portage, by Solon J. Buck, in Minnesota Historical Bulletin, February, 1923.)

Huronian Mine, at Jack Fish Lake, near Shebandowan. Discovered in 1872 by Peter McKellar. First gold mine in this part of the country.

Kakabeka. Kakabeking bawtick, meaning "high cliff falls." (Mrs. Corbett.) According to Mr. McKenzie, it means any steep rock. Sometimes in the early records it is called Mountain Falls; for instance R. M. Ballantyne calls them by that name, and also calls them Kackakecka Falls.

Kaministikwia. There have been innumerable spellings for this word, and also many meanings given. Nicholas Garry, in his diary, July 1, 1821, calls it Kaministiquia, and gives as the meaning "river of islands." It is also said to mean the "river that winds," and "the river of three mouths." I have also heard it said to mean "the crocked squaw." It was first known as the "river of the Assiniboines," then as "Trois Rivieras." Harmon, in 1805, called it Dog River. Mr. McKenzie says that the correct Indian name is Kamanatiquia, meaning "ragged shores involving portages." The Kaministikwia was discovered by Duluth in 1679, but the river itself was first explored by Jacques de Noyon, in 1688. In the course of time the route was forgotten, but was rediscovered in 1789 by Roderick Mackenzie of the N.W. Co.

The following are some of the forms of the word: "Kaministiquia, with some traces still of Kamanistiquia, the form Alexander Henry uses. Senator Masson prefers Kaministikia, and Kaministiqua, and Kaministiqa appear on many U.S. charts. The initial "K" varies to "C" and "G," and the "Q" to "G," and there were permutations in most of the vowels. Thus Gamanestigouya appears in La Verendrye's journal, 1738-39; we hear from the beginning of Camenistiquoia, of Three Rivers; Kamimistikweya is said by Pettitot to mean ' Caministiquia is Sir A. Mackenzie's form; Harmon prints Kaminitquia; Kamanaitiquoya appears in Malhoit; Kamanatekqoya, or "river of Fort William," is in Keating, page 135. I have found Wandering River once, and Dog River was common." (Coues, "New Light on the Great North West.")

Keewatin, means "north wind."

Lac des Mille Lacs. Sasagqisaigaigan, meaning "deep lake." (Mrs. Corbett.)

Lake of the Woods. The Indians called its northern portion Kamnitic Sakahagen, meaning Lake of the Woods, and Island Lake, and the southern portion Pekwaonga Sakahagan, or Lake of the Sand hills. Another Indian name is translated "White fish Lake." This is now applied to that portion of the lake east of Sioux Narrows. The northwest part of the lake was known as Clearwater Lake, now Clearwater Bay. Another Indian name was Minitic or Minnitite. During the French period it was variously known as Lac des Bois, Lac des Sioux, Lac des Iles, and in one case as Lac des Christineaux, a name more generally applied to Lake Winnipeg. On some maps it is called Asiniboiles.

Loch Lomond. Kasasagadadjiqegamishkag. (Father Renaud.) Kazazeekeegewaigamag, meaning the high lake that is always overflowing. (H. Sidney Hancock.)

Mission, Fort William. It was founded in 1848 by two Jesuits, Fathers Fre Mint and Jean Pierre Choni.

Mission Treaty. Concluded in 1850 by Hon. W. B. Robinson, with the chiefs of the Ojibway Indians. (See H. Y. Hind's Report.)

Montreal Island, and River. This name appears on Popple's map in 1731.

Mount Mackay. Nicholas Garry states in his diary of July 1, 1821, "This very fine mountain has no name." In 1857, however, H. Y. Hind calls it "Mount Mackay," though in the majority of references up to the later eighties, it is called "Mackay's Mountain." It was named after a free trader, William Mackay. The story goes that Trader Mackay was in the habit of climbing the mountain as his daily constitutional. I have not been able to find out in what year he lived in Fort William. The Indians now call it Anamikiewakchu, or Thunder Mountain, according to Mr. McKellar, or Mamanetigqeia wadjew, meaning Kaministikwia hill, according to Father Renaud, while Mrs. Corbett gives it as Missanbaing Wadjew, or Crane Mountain. (In regard to "Anamikiewakchu," see note under "Animikie.")

Mountain Road. Kichiwidijew ekahnah. (Mr. McKenzie.)

Mutton Island. Manisklanishi miniss. (Mrs. Corbett.)

Neebing. Said to mean "summer," but of this Mr. McKenzie is doubtful.

Neebing Post Office. See West Fort William.

Neebing Township. Plan dated July 1, 1860, signed by Thos. W. Herrick.

Nipigon, or Nipigon. called Annimibegon, meaning "the lake you cannot see the end of" (Grant's Picturesque Canada.) In the early records called Alemepigon. Fort Nipigon was at the mouth of the river on the left bank about 1680. On some early maps it is called "Fort Ancient du Sr. du L'Hut."

Otter Head Cove and Island. The earliest form met with is "Tete de l'Outre" on Popple's map, 1731. (Report, Can. Geo. Bd.)

Paipoonge. Meaning is doubtful, but I have been told that it is "winter." The township was laid out in 1852, and the plan signed in 1860 by T. W. Herrick. Mrs. Corbett gives "Be-taw-be-gosing" as the present form, meaning "double current."

Pays Plat, a translation of the Indian name which refers to the shallow floor of the lake hereabouts. Called Bagouachi on the Moll map of 1719. (Report, Can. Geog. Bd.)

Peeping Squaw. This is a protrusion of rock which appears in the vertical face of the middle Pie Island Mountain, at an elevation of about 300 feet. The Indian legend associates the Peeping Squaw with the Sleeping Giant, in one story telling that he, having followed him for many miles, he jumped to the Cape and then fell down exhausted, while she succeeded in getting only as far as the Pie in her jump, but that while he sleeps she remains on guard, prepared to renew her pursuit as soon as he stirs.

Pic River. Indian name me beds of yellow and white clay some distance up the river. It appears as "Le Pick" on the Moll map, 1707. (Report, Can. Geog. Bd.)

Pigeon River. Also called Dove River, and derives these names from the French phrase R River of Turtles, i.e., turtle doves, probably referring to the passenger pigeons. A name current earlier was Riviera aux Groseilles, also Groseilliers. Called by the Indians Neutokoagane, or Nautokongane. (See also Grand Portage.)

Pithers Point, on Rainy River. De la Verendrye's nephew, La Jemeraye, built a post here in 1731, which he called "Fort Saint Pierre." La Verendrye described it in his journal, and said: "A fort with two gates on opposite sides. Interior length of sides, 50 feet, with two bastions. There are two main buildings each composed of two rooms with double chimneys. Around these buildings is a road seven feet wide, and in one of the bastions a storehouse and powder magazine have been made, and there is a double row of stakes 13 feet out of the ground."

Porcupine Mine discovered in 1884. In this mine was found a special mineralogical feature, in the occurrence of the carbonate of barium, or witherite, said to be the first found in Canada.

Port Arthur, called at various times "Dawson's Landing," "The Depot," "The Station," and "Prince Arthur's Landing." Colonel Wolseley gave it the last name when landing with the troops in 1870. Changed to "Port Arthur" in 1883.

Prince's Location, on the mainland near Spar Island. Oldest mine on the Canadian shores, having been worked in 1846, or '47, when it appears to be regarded in the light of a copper rather than a silver-bearing vein.

Rabbit Mountain Mine, discovered by Oliver Daunais in 1882. Closed down in 1887.

Rainy Lake, lake of the Crists or Cristinaux (Crees') Lake. Known to the Indians as Takaminouen, and to the early French as Lac la Pluie. The first trading post of the North West Company in the Lake of the Woods district, was known as Rainy Lake House; date of construction uncertain, but John McDonnell, in 1793, writes: "In sight of the Fort of Lake la Pluie is the Kettle Falls, causing a portage. The fort stands on the top of a steep bank of the river. It has two wooden bastions in front flanking the gate."

Rainy River. Tekamimouen, or Ouchichiq River.

Royale Isle. Called Isle Minong by Fr. Dablon in the Jesuit Relations, 1671.

St. Joseph's Orphanage, established in 1870 by the Daughters of Mary, but taken over in 1885 by Sisters of St. Joseph.

Sault Ste. Marie. Named by the French in 1640 when they founded the mission of Ste. Marie du Saut. Previously it was known as Sault de Gaston, after the younger brother of Louis 13th.

Shangoinah. "White man."

Shebandowan, meaning long wigwam, door at both ends. (Mrs. Corbett.) Mr. Mackenzie says that this refers to a special tent that is erected for a dancing ceremony. It is put up in the spring when the willows and poplars are pliable, the frame being made of them, bent over and woven. These are then covered with skin. The "Shebandowan" is quite long, and the dancers enter at one end, and dance the full length, going out by the back end, and returning on the outside to the front again. It is considered quite sacred, and no liberties are allowed to be taken with an Indian's "shebandowan."

Shuniah, said to mean "money" or "silver."

Shuniah Township, organized in 1873. It consisted of the Townships of McIntyre, McGregor, the welcomes, Pie Island, Neebing, Paipoonge, Blake, Cronks, Pardee, and Neebing Additional. Organized in order to raise funds ($70,000 bonds) to build the railway from Port Arthur to West Fort.

Shuniah Mine, formerly called Duncan Mine, discovered in 1867 by John and George McVicar; sold in 1870 for $75,000.

Silver Harbour Mine, also called the Beck Mine, discovered in 1870, closed in 1872 after extensive development.

Silver Islet, a small islet less than 90 feet square, and eight feet at its highest point; discovered on July 10, 1868, by a Mr. John Morgan, under the direction of Mr. T. Macfarlane; $3,250,000 is said to have been taken from it before it was closed down in 1884. It went to a depth of 1,230 feet and had thirteen levels. The length of one of the veins was known to be over 9,000 feet, extending from the islet over to the mainland and on to "Morgan's Junction" a shaft beyond the Cross Fox farm. There is a romantic story of the shutting down of the mine, when it is said that it was due to the failure of the arrival of a boat in November, 1884, on which was the winter's supply of fuel. This necessitated the closing down of the furnaces which operated the pumps, and the mine flooded. Some skeptical people think that that was only made an excuse, and that the wealth had been exhausted. Since then various attempts have been made to have the water pumped out, and the operation continued, but no great wealth has been made in these ventures.

Silver Mountain Mine, discovered in 1884, and operated with considerable success for several years.

Spar Island Mine. This was part of the old Prince' s Location, one of the first mining properties worked on the lakes, operations having been carried on there in 1846 and '49.

Sleeping Giant. Many interesting stories are told in regard to this giant, and Indian superstition declares it a spot that may well be avoided.

Superior Lake. On September 2, 1665, Father Allouez entered Lake Superior and named it "Tracy," after the Marquis de Tracy, Lieutenant-Governor of that period. Its discovery had previously been reported in 1618 by Etienne Brule. On the Jesuit maps of 1670-71, it is called "Lac Tracy, ou Superieur," and shortly after, the second, and much more suitable name, became general. Kitchigami, meaning "great water" is the Indian word generally accepted, though that word refers to any large body of water.

Thunder Bay, Animikie wekwed. Thunder birds lived there in olden times, hence Thunder Bird Bay. (Mrs. Corbett)

Thunder Bay Mine, 2½ miles northeast of the mouth of the Current River. Discovered by Mr. Peter McKellar in 1866. Developed quite extensively, and a little village sprang up. Everything was destroyed by fire in 1873, and again in 1881.

Thunder Cape, Kitchi neiashing, meaning "great point"; also Animiki neiashi, "Thunder Point." (Father Renaud.) Kitch Naishing, "long narrow point." (Mrs. Corbett.) Animiki wadjew, "thunder hill." (Mr. McKenzie.) For Animiki, see also under Animikie.

Town Plot. Laid out in 1857, plan signed by T. W. Herrick in 1860.

Trowbridge Island, named after one of the Silver Islet officials, C. A. Trowbridge, Secretary of Silver Islet Company.

Wallbridge Mine, on Lot II, Paipoonge. Discovered in 1863, copper, sulphurets and galena ores. The first mining property sold in Thunder Bay.

Welcomes. Pagwaassabaning. (Father Renaud.) Called "the Welcomes" on Bayfield's map, 1828.

West Fort William. This section developed as the result of the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway, the centre of the settlement being at Brown Street, and along the river front. On the post once being opened it was called "Fort William." Later on, East Fort William sprang up, and there the post office was also called "Fort William." The west end then changed their name to "Neebing," and in the course of time to "Fort William, West," then to Westfort, and finally to West Fort William.

Winnipeg is Indian for "muddy water," a name applied to Lake Winnipeg, which is turbid after a storm. Fort Garry, the THE THUNDER BAY HISTORICAL SOCIETY H.B. Co. fort, was the nucleus of the present city. The name is first found on the title page of the "North Wester" of February 24, 1866. The first house was built in Winnipeg in 1862.

Winnipeg River, Riviera Maurepas, Riviera Blanche, White River, and Sea River. The present name is a translation of the old Indian designation, Wi-nipi, meaning turbid waters, which appears on the old maps as Ouinepique, Ouinipigon, Winnipeek, and many other ways.

[Public Domain] Copyright/Licence: The author or authors of this work died in 1964 or earlier, and this work was first published no later than 1964. Therefore, this work is in the public domain in Canada per sections 6 and 7 of the Copyright Act. See disclaimers.