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By Ewan Ross 1922-1987
GLENGARRY PLACE NAMES -- Part 2 by Ewan Ross
In the 1973 annual report of our Society our secretary noted that
Glengarry today is almost equally divided between French and English
speaking people, almost half of whom are b - lingual. This led me to
think of what we in Glengarry, and for that matter, in a great deal of North America., owe to the French, who as traders, trappers and missionaries pushed their way further north, west, and south each year in the 200 years before the Loyalists came in 1784.
To the French we owe the fact that, though it was to a wilderness the Loyalists came, it wasn't a completely unexplored wilderness. Its principal features and possibilities were known and at least roughly mapped. When the townships along the St. Lawrence were surveyed in 1783-84, they were surveyed as part of the Province of Quebec. It wasn't until 1791 that Upper Canada was created, stretching west along the St. Lawrence from M. de Longueil's seigneury which ended at the mouth of the Riviere au Bodet.
When Patrick McNiff led his survey parties into the bush on the north shore of Lake St. Francis in the fall of 1783, his superiors furnished him with a sketch map, now in the Dominion Archives in Ottawa, which showed him how they wanted the lots laid out in relation to three known (at least to the extent that they were known to be there) physical features -- the mouth of the Bodet, Lake St. Francis,, and the River Raisin. This sketch map also shows us that the course of the Raisin was not known, as it is shown to come down from the direction of present Highway 34, rather than from the west as it does.
These three reference points are still with us under their original names, though the usual spelling of them has changed somewhat, partly owing to the widespread use of English in the area.
Who gave these names and when? Prior to 1685, the French had named all the St. Lawrence system after Saints, as is shown on Franquelin's map. Lake Ontario was Lac St. Louis; Lac St. Francis, Lac St. Pierre and the St. Laurens were as they are now, except in Ontario we use the English spelling today.
The name St. Laurens originally applied only to the Gulf, and was so called by Jacques Cartier who anchored in it on St. Lawrence's day, August 10, 1535. As the waterway was explored the name crept up the river, and on maps in the 1600's we find the river labelled "Grand Fleuve du Canada ou St. Laurens." As we know, St. Laurens won out.
Riviere au Bodet is our present River Beaudette. We know its course in detail. It is still a reference point for us. As we travel east we know when we get there that we are in Quebec. But who was it named for? When? Why?
Riviere aux Raisins is still here., though usually in its English form, "The Raisin River." The local people always call it "The Black River." which is an accurate description of its colour; but the geographers were quite correct when they insisted on the retention of its old name. The French named it long before the Loyalists came, and that's all we know. We can be a little more explicit as to why they named it. The wild grapes are still growing among the trees along its banks between Martintown and Williamstown, and along the South Branch between Glendale and Grant's Corner. So it was and still is "The River among the Grapes."
Another French name in daily use is River Delisle. There are two possibilities about the origin of this name. It may have been named for a famous French geographer of his time, Sieur Gabriel Aubert DeL'Isle., who was a friend of the Marquis de Vaudreuil (1698-1778), the last French Governor of New France. Or it may have been named because of the island at its mouth, "La Riviere de la Grande Isle."
Another name from French days that we still use is Pointe Mouillee, today a game preserve near the east side of Lancaster Township. As the name implies, it is a wet place, a marsh.
The Rigaud River which drains a large part of Lochiel into the Ottawa is a name that has been in use in Ontario only for the last 40 years. Then the LaGraisse River which the local people always called "The Grass River" had its name changed in Glengarry to conform to the name it bore in Quebec, where it empties into the Ottawa. Rigaud was the family name of the Marquis de Vaudreuil, whose two sons had a seigniory along this river at and rear its mouth. La Graisse means oil or fat. Does this refer to the "fat" agricultural land it drains, or were there oil slicks at one time? Maybe there is oil under Lochiel! At one time there was a South La Graisse Post Office at the north corner of lots A and 1 in the 3rd of Lochiel (1869-1880).
There were other French names on the old maps of what is now Glengarry. All of these have gone completely out of use. In some cases we are not sure just where they were, but where possible we'll link them with today's name: Pointe aux Herbes just east of South Lancaster; Pointe du Lac, now Glengarry Point; Raisin Isle, now Cairn Island; Pointe Raisin) now South Lancaster; Pte. a la Traverse, now Farlinger's Point; Rivierre a la Traverse., now Gray's Creek; Marandier Pointe in 23-1, Lancaster, so called after a friend of Vaudreuil's; Point au Chene, now Graveyard Point, and likely so called because oak trees grew on it.
And last but not least, the interesting Isle au Morpion. There seem to have been two islands so called; one, a rock south of Pointe Mouillee; the other, possibly the present Clark Island south of 16 - 1, Charlottenburg. Le morpion is the English crab-louse, or slangily, some one who is the type that might have them. I wonder what the story is behind the name.