Now appearing in the North Bay Nugget’s regional paper  “Community Voices” a
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Mar. 7, 2003

How Some Townships Got Their Names

In the late 1800s as the "new Ontario" was opened for settlement and business, the north was blocked out into townships and divided primarily into 100 acre lots. Land grants were provided under the Free Grant Act (1868) and the north began to open up. As each township was surveyed it was given a name of a federal or provincial Member of Parliament, a judge, or other important figures including political supporters.

There have been several large books written over the years, giving the source of every name on the map. These books usually mention a book by H.F. Gardener called "Nothing But Names: an Inquiry into the Names of Counties and Townships in Ontario." The book was written in 1889 and accordingly only covers material to that date. It may be of interest to some of the readers of Community Voices to see what Gardener has to say about some township names. He makes an interesting comment in his introduction when he says that, "mystery will surround some of the township names in northern Ontario half a century after the completion of the surveyor's work." Now, 120 years later, there may be some truth in this statement.

With modern research data available in books and online, and with the work of individuals and groups, especially Women's Institutes, most townships know the source of their name. I have seen several township references, which state that the township was named after the surveyor of the township, which was never the case.

I will give some of Gardener's information on a few local townships included in his book. He did none above the Mattawa River and Lake Nipissing. Since space is limited I will look primarily at incorporated townships (see map). In all cases, the information here is short compared to what Gardener wrote. If anyone wants more information on their township, or information on a township not included, contact me and I will forward a copy of Gardener's information.

Note that South Himsworth has been amalgamated with Trout Creek and Powassan, and is now called Powassan, and North Himsworth is now called Callander. Gurd was annexed to Nipissing many years ago. Cameron and Papineau Townships have joined and have both names in their title today. Nipissing Township is not included because it was not named after a VIP.

The list below starts on the east and moves west through the Nipissing District and into the Parry Sound District. In the description below, MPP means Member of Provincial Parliament, and MP means (Federal) Member of Parliament. The dates indicate Gardeners approximate date of the township survey.


 NIPISSING DISTRICT Cameron Township (1884) was named after Chief Justice Sir Matthew Crooks Cameron, who was an MPP, held several senior government positions and was knighted in 1887. Papineau Township (1878) was named after the Hon. Louis Joseph Papinaeu, who was an early MPP in Lower Canada and Speaker of the House. He was a leader of the Lower Canadian Rebellion in 1837-38, and spent a decade in exile in the U.S. and France, before returning to become active again (his estate at Montebello Quebec is now an historic site). Calvin Township (1881) was named for Delano Dexter Calvin MPP, who was a highly successful lumberman and ship-builder on Garden Island near Kingston (a film on his life was recently shown, and his life is recorded in detail in several places including Calvin Township's fine history book). Bonfield Township (1881) was named after James Bonfield, and MPP and lumber merchant from Eganville Ontario. Chisholm Township (1880) was named after Kenneth Chisholm who was an MPP and a successful businessman in Brampton. Ferris Township (1880) was named after James Marshall Ferris who was an MPP and a railwayman. , PARRY SOUND DISTRICT Himsworth Townships (1876). William Alfred Himsworth was a senior civil servant who held many important positions and became the Clerk of the Privy Council of Canada. Machar Township (1875) is named after the Rev. John Machar D.D. a leading Presbyterian Minister and President of Queen's University (the use of his name was arranged by his fried Sir. Oliver Mowat). Strong Township (1877) was named after the Right Hon. Sir Samuel Henry Strong, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. He was the first Canadian appointed to Her Majesty's Privy Council and was knighted in 1893. Armour Township (1875) was named after the Hon. John Douglas Armour, who was a highly respected Judge. Joly Township (1878) was named after the Hon. Gustave Joly de Botbiniere, MPP, speaker of the Quebec Assembly and Premier of Quebec in 1878-79. He later became an MP and Cabinet Minister. Ryerson Township (1870) was named after Edgerton Ryerson, the Chief Superintendent of Education for Ontario from 1844 to 1876, and was one of the founders of Ontario's educational system (Ryerson University in Toronto is named after him).

Some unincorporated townships were named after well-known historical figures as well. Laurier Township (1878) was named after Sir Wilfred Laurier, MPP, cabinet minister, leader of the federal Liberal party, and Prime Minister of Canada in 1896. Hardy Township was named after the Hon. Sturgis Hardy, who was an Ontario MPP for twenty five years and the Premier of Ontario 1896. Lount Township (1874) was named after MPP William Lount (his father's brother was hung for his part in the Rebellion of 1837-38). Patterson Township (1876) was named after the Hon. C.S. Patterson, who after a long career was appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada. E.J. Chapman Township (1870) was named after Professor Chapman, head of the Geology Department at the University of Toronto for forty years.

Some appointments were pure patronage. Pringle Township (1879) was named after R.R. Pringle, who was a prominent conservative politician but never an MPP. Gurd Township (1875) was named after R.S. Gurd a prominent businessman. Both were friends of the Commissioner of Crown Lands, who oversaw the naming of the townships.

In a future article I will look at how some towns and villages in our area got their names.

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